By Aliza Mulloy
The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg is a “dry” campus. This means no alcohol (including empty containers) or drugs and paraphernalia are permitted on campus. We treat violations of our drug & alcohol policy very seriously.
Students on college campuses are drinking. A lot. Not only for entertainment but also as a coping mechanism.
At 8 p.m., on a Tuesday, I sit next to an acquaintance, a UPG student, in Millstein Library. Over physics notes, she takes aggressive swigs from an opaque water bottle.
“It’s wine. Homemade Riesling,” she admits, “I study better with wine. It calms me down, makes me focus on the material. Without it, I’m more focused on the possibility of failing a test than I’m focused on studying.”
I admit I am writing an article on binge drinking on our campus. She laughs.
“Figures,” she says.
“I’ve been there too many times. I get it. I won’t name names,” I say.
We laugh again. There’s a certain bond established over alcohol.
Alcohol is a sort of problematic solution to almost all social scenarios. The media reinforces this idea. Television, movies, commercials, and song lyrics all depict people drinking. Not only drinking, but drinking excessively. So, is binge drinking really problem, or simply a scenario the media portrays is normal?
“It’s complex,” says Jeff Hayes, Penn State professor of education and psychology and a licensed psychologist, according to a recent article, “Probing Questions: How Serious is the Binge Drinking Problem on College Campuses?”
“According to the data that Hayes and his colleagues from the Center from Collegiate Mental Health have collected from more than 100 college campuses, 56 percent of students don’t engage in regular binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks in a row for men, or four or more drinks in a row for women.”
So, the majority of college students are not engaging in binge drinking. But, 44 percent of college students are. Forty-four percent is still an issue. A major issue, considering “1,900 college students nationwide die from alcohol-related injuries each year. Approximately 600,000 students are injured under the influence of alcohol annually…700,000 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking…100,000 students are victims of alcohol related injury” (Sliman, 2013).
According to the students I spoke with on campus, the majority of students seem to think binge drinking is drinking to the point of blackout, or drinking with the intention to “get messed up.” When informed that binge drinking is actually five drinks in two hours for men, four drinks in two hours for women, students were surprised.
Why the surprise? According to Brian Root, Assistant Director of Housing and Residence Life at University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, incoming freshmen are given accurate information on drinking and the dangers associated with drinking. Students are informed and know the consequences of drinking before stepping foot on our campus.
Despite adequate and accurate information, there still seems to be a disconnect from the true definition of binge drinking. College students have established their own definition. A definition in tune to the habits they are surrounded by.
“If you have a tolerance for alcohol, four or five drinks doesn’t seem like it would fall under the category of binge drinking,” said Lauren Boczar, a recent UPG graduate.
“I will get a six pack, grill chicken, boil brown rice and asparagus. I drink, eat a good meal, and hang out with friends. Yes, I drink more than four drinks in two hours, but it’s casual. I think binge drinking is an intention. If you intend to get ‘fucked up,’ that’s binge drinking. The number of drinks isn’t the issue, it’s the goal,” said Jordan Fessler, a junior at UPG.
Students do drink with an intention to get “messed up.” Maybe the intention isn’t always expressed outright, but buying a fifth of liquor or a twelve-pack for yourself has intention.
To solve the issue of students binge drinking, Hayes suggest “having attractive activities and programs.”
Alexis Newingham, a previous peer leader and current student at UPG, said, “When I was a peer leader, I had a lot of freshmen interested in the drinking scene. Wanting to know where people were socially drinking, where parties were, how to have access to alcohol.”
Why are UPG students so interested in partaking in the drinking scene? Are there not enough alternative activities and programs?
As a UPG student, I know there are various activities held on weekdays. But Pitt-Greenburg is a commuter campus. The campus sort of shuts down on the weekends. On-campus activities might reduce the number of students “turnt” on a Tuesday, “wasted” on a Wednesday, “thirsty” on a Thursday,” but Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are different. Parking lots and dorms are near vacant. It’s like a ghost town. There is never much to do on weekends. It is not an ultimate goal to drink on the weekends but it always happens out of boredom.
Boredom is one reason students may drink. Meeting people, making friendships is another reason.
“People are more social. I made a lot more friends when I’ve been out at a parties or bars, compared to meeting people at like the library or something. And everyone is totally honest when they drink, so you’re more likely to know their true self,” said a senior at UPG who wished not to be named.
Students focus on the benefits of drinking, and ignore the consequences and dangers. Campus administration claims alcohol and drug violations are “taken very seriously,” but students don’t take the consequences seriously. I spoke with a student caught drinking in the dorms.
“They call your parents, you pay like $50, take an alcohol class, write a paper, basically, about why you are an alcoholic. It’s dumb. Just because you drink and get caught, doesn’t mean you are an alcoholic,” said a junior at UPG, “Honestly, I think I was drinking when I wrote the paper. I didn’t care about it.”
After experiencing the consequences of drinking, students continue to drink. Some consequences aren’t severe enough to feel a need to initiate lifestyle changes, but some are. A close friend of mine, from St. Vincent College, a nearby campus, also used alcohol to assist her social life.
“Drinking was fun for me my freshman year. It let me make new friends and made me feel less anxious,” she said, “But one night I got too excited and started taking shots and doing beer bongs. I wasn’t sure if I was slipped something or if I just blacked out from drinking so much. I only had two memories for the rest of the night. The first is waking up naked in a shower and someone trying to wake me up. The second was laying on a couch with a guy I didn’t know at all, touching me and kissing me. I couldn’t wake myself up enough to get away. My friend, who had originally brought me to the party, had left.”
The traumatic experience actually caused her to drink more excessively and more often. Drinking became a coping mechanism.
“Hayes acknowledges that it is sometimes a chicken-or-the-egg question: Is a student using alcohol to cope with problems, or is a student drinking to excess and therefore experiencing problems?”
Yes, seems to be the answer to both questions. Excessive alcohol consumption results in a cycle of self-harm.
How do we end the cycle? The problem doesn’t seem to be a lack of information or activities or consequences, but a lack of concern. Students care more about the benefits of alcohol than the possibility of problems.
Be concerned. If you think your friend’s, family’s, or loved one’s alcohol consumption is unhealthy, discuss the issue. Being concerned with someone else’s habits might raise their own concern. Encourage people to change their unhealthy drinking habits. Provide fun, alternative activities. Drinking becomes a habit but it is a habit that can be broken with positive influence.
Visit http://www.recovery.org/topics/alcohol-and-drug-addiction-recovery/, if you are concerned with someone’s drinking habits.