The Issue of College Drinking

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Every day we see the effects of the drink, drunk people. Staggering, slurring, spitting and vomiting. What is this evil hemlock? Whether Beer, wine or liquor, they all have the potential for disaster.

Pure ethyl alcohol (ETOH), is odorless, colorless and tasteless. Alcohol is one of the most enigmatic products we consume today; in fact, it has been with us since the Stone Age. The Bible alludes to Noah’s getting drunk; it was a staple on the Mayflower as it crossed the Atlantic to America. Grandfathers share their beer with toddlers sitting on their knees while mothers tell their children to wait until they’re of legal age before they drink. By some it’s considered the devil’s brew, yet others use it in sacred ritual. It has survived temperance movements in Italy, Germany, England and the United States. It has been used as a thirst quencher, to relieve hunger, as a medication, and as a mind-altering drug. Today, the brew plagues a very susceptible audience, college students.

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According to Dr. Henry Wechsler, principal investigator in the Harvard study of college drinking, 44 percent of all undergraduates in the United States binge drink–a rate that has been fairly constant for almost 20 years. It also found that 23 percent of the men and 17 percent of the women were frequent binge drinkers–downing a bunch of drinks three or more times in two weeks.(College Alcohol Study Harvard School of public Health)

To understand the true basic nature of the issue, it is first necessary to define the issue. “Binge drinking,” is defined as five or more drinks for a man at any one time within a two-week period, four or more drinks for a woman.(ACPA) This definition doesn’t mean getting falling-down drunk, says Dr. Henry Wechsler, instead, having five drinks in a row indicates problems associated with drinking. What’s more, he found that few students who consume five, often continue to drink six or more.

An in depth survey of nearly 15,000 students at 116 universities and colleges in 39 states was conducted. Released in September, at the Harvard School of Public Health, the survey compared college drinking today with baseline data gathered in 1993. (College Alcohol Study Harvard School of public Health)

  1.  The proportion of drinkers who “drank to get drunk” increased by a third, from 39 percent in 1993 to 52 percent in 1997.
  2.  The proportion of drinkers who got drunk three or more times in the previous month increased by 22 percent.
  3.  More than one-third of the students surveyed reported driving after drinking, a 13 percent increase since 1993.
  4.  Four out of five fraternity and sorority members were binge drinkers.

“Despite highly publicized tragedies and continuing examinations of college alcohol policies, the data indicate … an intensification of severe drinking behavior” among college students who drink alcohol, said Henry Wechsler, Ph.D., the principal investigator. “Fraternity and sorority members, and especially students who live in the houses, continue to be at the center of the campus alcohol culture. If colleges are to have an impact on their alcohol problems, they must drastically change this way of life.”(College Alcohol Study Harvard School of public Health)

What one must keep in mind is that drinking is not just directly related to drunkenness, there are a large number of other factors effected by the anarchy. It is understandable that there could be a resulting decline in academic prowess and performance, but violence, drugs and jail?

Tim Anderl, an Ohio University senior, says that typically, “By the end of the fall, you’re broke and your grades are in the gutter.”( Indeed, many students spend more money in a semester on alcohol–over $300–than they do on books. According to the CSAP, college students spend approximately $4.2 billion annually to purchase: 430 million gallons of alcoholic beverages, including over four billion cans of beer.(CSAP)

There’s also a correlation between drinking and grades. One study found that A students have, on average, three drinks a week, while those making D’s and F’s average 11 drinks a week.(ACPA) Research at the center on addiction and substance abuse say that alcohol is a factor in about 41 percent of all academic problems and 28 percent of all cases of student dropout.

The drinkers risk an injury from a fight or a fall. They also risk acquaintance rape and the spread of AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases due to impaired judgment. Alcohol-related car crashes are also an enormous risk. Binge Drinking, according to the ACPA, is a contributing factor in almost half of all motor vehicle fatalities, the leading cause of death among young Americans. Alcohol is involved in two-thirds of college student suicides, 90 percent of campus rapes, and 95 percent of violent crimes on college campuses.(ACPA) At the very least, many may spend the morning “talking to God through the great white telephone” during a mean, painful hangover.

Some students even suffer the consequence of death. Scott Krueger, 18, a high-achieving freshman at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, overdosed on alcohol at a fraternity party in September, slipped into a coma, and died three days later. Leslie Anne Baltz was a 21-year-old honor student at the University of Virginia until November, when she drank too much at a pre-game party, was left alone by friends to sleep it off, somehow tumbled down a flight of stairs, hit her head, and died.

Alcohol poisoning or alcohol-related accidents killed at least five other undergraduates nationwide during the 1997 fall term.(College Alcohol Study Harvard School of public Health) While no one counts the number of college students who die from alcohol use, Dr. David Anderson of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., estimates that at least 50 die each year.

“My roommate and I went to a party, and she got drunk. She hooked up with this guy from the fraternity and had sex with him that night. I couldn’t have stopped her because she would have gotten mad. The next day we found out that the guy is seeing someone else and is known all around campus for taking advantage of girls when they’re drunk.” – Anonymous Respondent (College Alcohol Study Harvard School of Public Health)

College administrators often identify student alcohol abuse as one of the biggest challenges they face. Yet, funding for prevention programs, on the increase until 1994, has never averaged more than a few dollars per student, not counting staff salaries. Experts complain that many alcohol education programs seldom involve more than a few posters, some brochures, and an Alcohol Awareness Week, all of which students say are largely ignored.

Bill DeJong, director of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention in Boston, thinks colleges have to change the way they recruit students. “If their view books show scenes of small groups socializing rather than football games, tailgate parties, and so on, they will attract a different kind of student,” he argues.(DeJong)

That’s the strategy being adopted by the University of Rhode Island, once rated a top party school. On a sunny fall afternoon, URI junior Denis Guay guides a tour of the campus for prospective students and their parents to a freshman dormitory room. After pointing out the route to the bathrooms, he states the school’s alcohol policy: no drinking anywhere on campus by anyone under 21 and only one six-pack at a time per legal-age student in the dorm rooms. The first offense earns a fine of $50; the second, $100; the third, suspension. (URI)

Lee and Judi Kroll, on the tour with their son Jon, were glad to hear of the low-tolerance alcohol policy. Jon doubted the measures were actually enforced. While a number of URI students said it was possible to discreetly drink on campus, more agreed with sophomore Kira Edler, who said, “If you get caught, there are prices to pay.” As a result, URI is less of a party school. Since 1990, kegs have been banned from campus, alcohol prohibited from social events, and fines instituted and raised. While the number of violations for possessing alcohol is up, other violations involving alcohol, such as violence or vandalism, have fallen sharply.

Colleges and universities will never rid themselves of alcohol abuse completely, Wechsler says; instead, the goal is to change the norm. Look at what happened with smoking. “No Smoking” signs are obeyed with few complaints. The designated driver, an idea unheard of 15 years ago, is now a common practice, even for partying college kids. Alcohol education did reach some of the more moderate drinkers, experts say. Now it’s time to target heavy drinkers.

A recent article in Time Magazine indicates the belief that respect for alcohol should come from the home. A survey of 2,000 teenagers showed a direct relationship between teen substance abuse and the lack of close familial connections, especially between children and their fathers. The survey revealed a common belief of the students. According to them, the real education should happen at home, starting well before they are teenagers, maybe as young as age seven. (“By the time you’re a teen, you’ve stopped listening,” said one.) The best approach, they said, is for parents to try to have an ongoing discussion with them, to listen rather than lecture and to provide a good example.

“ I was in a coma for 8 days that was caused by acute alcohol poisoning. By now I was know as the guy with nine lives, a title I enjoyed” (College Alcohol Study Harvard School of public Health)

Every other night I am stirred out of slumber to be greeted by drunken room-mates and friends. I have gotten used to college being one huge bar with an enormous cover charge. My self, I have definitely received what I had been promised. Now aided with a plethora of information, I can say that my concluding remarks are to be educated ones.

Binge Drinking is an awful fact about the college life. It is a matter of time, place and circumstance, and the college experience satisfies the setting requirements. I look at where I am in terms of setting, and I tend to view it as summer camp. Classes are why we are here, but when the lights go out, it is time to sneak over to the other cabins.

The College experience is just that, an experience. One must endure and persevere through all of it, school, relationships, late nights, drinking and drugs. It is a serious character builder, and a lesson in conduct. I believe it is okay to experiment with alcohol and drugs in college, but it is important to look out for your fellow students, as only they know what is really going on. It is important to differentiate between the experiences of our parents and ourselves. Sure, they downed a couple and maybe smoked a little marijuana, but today the amount of drug abuse that accompanies Binge drinking is disgusting. I have seen people that have been awake for weeks at a time, and others so heavily sedated, they have slept for days.

I would love for there to be some sort of resolution to all of the insanity, but I do not think there will be. College is the first time in a young adults life where they feel free. It is time to play house, and what better way to play than having a beer in one hand and a female in the other.


  3. Presley, C.A., Meilman, P.W., and Lyerla, R. Alcohol and Drugs on American College Campuses: Use, Consequences, and Perceptions of the Campus Environment. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University, Core Institute, 1993
  5. Ryan, B.E., Colthurst, T., and Segars, L. College Alcohol Risk Assessment Guide. San Diego, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Studies, UCSD Extension, 1994.

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The Issue of College Drinking. (2018, Sep 07). Retrieved from

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