College Binge Drinking Epidemic Throughout the years, drinking alcohol in excessive amounts has become somewhat synonymous with the college experience. It has become an expected occurrence for college-aged students to drink and party regularly, and overtime has transformed into an accepted social norm of college life. Extreme drinking has been a consistent social problem that has substantially grown on college campuses all around the United States for the past few decades. In fact, binge drinking is consistently voted as the most serious problem on campuses by collegiate presidents (College Binge Drinking Facts).
Thus, most campuses have recognized binge drinking as a serious problem, yet this epidemic continues on, and many seem to turn a blind eye toward it. According to Learn-About-Alcoholism. com, 90% of the alcohol consumed by teens is consumed in the form of binge drinking. Binge drinking is a widespread phenomenon on most college campuses, including the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and has harmful and dangerous consequences as well as significant impacts on the goal higher education. First, it is important to establish a definition for the term ‘binge drinking. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0. 08 gram-percent or above. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming five or more drinks (male), or four or more drinks (female), in about two hours” (What Colleges Need to Know Now). In essence, binge drinking is the drinking of alcoholic beverages with the primary intention of becoming heavily intoxicated by alcohol over a short period of time.
In a nationwide survey, nearly half of all college students (42%) reported binge drinking during the last two weeks. It is obvious that binge drinking is a severe problem on college campuses as almost half of all students engage in this risky activity that leads to unhealthy and negative outcomes. In this situation, the objective social issue is binge drinking on college campuses around the country, including UMass Amherst. The subjective social problems are all of the various repercussions that binge drinking can result in (Lundquist Lecture January 25).
Most college students do not consider these serious risks when they participate in heavy drinking. These consequences include intentional and unintentional injuries, alcohol poisoning, physical and sexual abuses, unprotected sex and sexually transmitted diseases, relationship problems, alcohol addiction, and poor grades. Long-term use of alcohol risks liver damage, pancreatitis, certain cancers, literal shrinkage of the brain, neurological damage, high blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases (Witmer).
It is clear there are countless negative effects both physically and mentally, and long-term and short-term caused by excessive alcohol consumption. There are numerous groups of people who view binge drinking on campuses as problematic. School administrators and the faculty of colleges are concerned with this problem because it tarnishes the reputation of the school, inflicts damage to school property, and injures or even kills students. Parents of these college students also view drinking as problematic, as it is likely they are paying for their children to attend school, and their teens are partying their college years away.
Students who do not binge drink on campus but witness the effects of it on their peers and friends are concerned with this problem, and are also greatly affected by the behavior of students who binge drink. Among students who do not binge drink on a given night, 71% have had sleep or study disrupted, 11% had been pushed, hit, or assaulted by the binge drinker, 57% had to spend the majority of their sleep time caring for the intoxicated student, 23% had experienced an unwanted sexual encounter, and 16% had property damage (College Binge Drinking Facts).
On the other hand, students who are engaging in binge drinking do not view this as a social problem as they are oblivious to the risky outcomes and alarming statistics. I believe excessive drinking has been defined as a social problem on the UMass Amherst campus because programs and campaigns have been established to help reduce the amount of binge drinking among students. For example, BASICS (Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students) is a program for students found in violation of the UMass liquor code. The program includes two 50-minute counseling sessions with a drug and alcohol prevention specialist.
About 1,000 students a year go through the program, mostly students who have violated the campus alcohol rules, but students may also attend on their own free will. Furthermore, freshmen at UMass are required to take a 75-minute online course about alcohol consumption (Drake). UMass also offers many other activities on campus to give extra opportunities for students to participate in rather than illegal drinking. The lifecycle of binge drinking has been established through the NIAA’s definition of binge drinking which defines the problem.
The public has transformed it into a public issue with organizations such as SADD and Alcoholics Anonymous. The lifecycle of the binge drinking problem continues with a debate over the cause of it, and finally finishes with coming up with a solution to reduce the amount of binge drinking on campuses (Lundquist Lecture January 25). UMass Amherst has a history of binge drinking and wild parties, thus earning itself the nicknames Zoomass, The Zoo, and Zoomass Slamherst. Although UMass has many outstanding attributes to the school, its drinking reputation and party scene still seems to stand out from the rest of what the school has to offer.
In 2005, the Princeton Review awarded UMass Amherst one of the “Best Northeastern Colleges,” as well as one of the eighty-one nationwide “Colleges with a Conscience” for its exceptional community-service learning programs. The Princeton Review also named UMass Amherst the number nine party school in the nation, and obviously this ranking gained more press and attention than the other recognitions (Drake). Most college students do not consider the harmful consequences, both short term and long term, when going out for a night of binge drinking.
The three leading causes of death for 15 to 24 year olds are car accidents, homicides, and suicides, and alcohol is a leading factor in all three. Specifically, 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes. Annually, an estimated 30,000 college students require medical treatment after overdosing on alcohol. Also, 599,000 college students aged 18 to 24 sustain unintentional injuries each year from use of alcohol.
Alcohol is also a catalyst for sexual behaviors, both unprotected and unwanted. More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. Additionally, 400,000 students aged 18 to 24 had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students of this age group report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex (A Snapshot of Annual High-Risk College Drinking Consequences). Alcohol use in college campuses also have a severe negative effect on the academic performance of students who partake in binge drinking.
About 25% of college students report academic penalties as a result of drinking such as missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall (A Snapshot of Annual High-Risk College Drinking Consequences). In fact, frequent binge drinkers are twenty-one times more likely than non-binge drinkers to miss classes, fall behind in schoolwork, engage in vandalism, be injured or hurt, engage in unplanned sexual activity, not use protection when having sex, get in trouble with campus police, or drive a car after drinking (Binge Drinking on College Campuses).
Some of the top reasons college students give for exposing themselves to binge drinking are drinking to have a good time, drinking to get drunk, and drinking to celebrate. Other rationales are peer pressure, stress from academic and familial issues, and the culture of alcohol consumption on campuses. Students that are more likely to be binge drinkers are white, involved in athletics, age twenty-three or younger, and are residents of a fraternity or a sorority. It is also reported that the prevalence of binge drinking among men is two times the prevalence among women, and is more common by older teens than younger teens.
Statistics show that 35% of adults with alcohol dependency developed symptoms by age 19, which is the age of a college student. The proportion of current drinkers that binge is highest in the 18 to 20 year old group (51%) (Quick Stats: Binge Drinking). When considering different sociological perspectives on college binge drinking, there are three different outlooks on how it originates among students. The pathological perspective on binge drinking states that drinking is the result of innately evil individuals. The abnormality is genetic, so therefore there is no remedy for binge drinking.
The disorganization perspective on binge drinking believes that drinking arises when individuals become disoriented by rapid social and societal change or are socialized to behave badly. These drinkers have not yet adopted the mainstream norms of society. Lastly, the critical perspective on binge drinking takes the viewpoint that inequality leads some groups to binge drink out of economic necessity. They drink to deal with their problems concerning financial instability and other various struggles and hardships of life. (Lundquist Lecture January 25).
Statistics across the country prove that binge drinking on college campuses continues to be a growing problem. Linda Degutis, associate professor of emergency medicine at Yale Medical School, believes college drinking has indeed worsened since she began a career in emergency medicines in the early seventies. She states, “I don’t remember seeing people coming in with the alcohol overdoses the way we do now” (Seaman 113). Additionally, in the fall of 2003 there was an apparent spike in the alcohol-related hospitalizations across the United States.
The first two weekends of George Washington University’s first semester saw a doubling of hospitalizations. At Harvard, the number of Undergraduates carried into University Health Services’ ER on Massachusetts Avenue nearly doubled during October and November from the previous year. (114) The movie, Spin the Bottle: An Example of Social Problems at UMass was a homework assignment for Sociology 103 students to watch. This documentary highlights the growing epidemic of drinking on college campuses, and how the media and advertisements also fuel binge drinking.
Clips from the popular comedy films American Pie and Roadtrip are featured in Spin the Bottle showing how movies can influence and encourage teen drinking. College students who view these films get the idea that drinking in college is a rite of passage and that it is a social norm of college life. Spin the Bottle also discussed the status of alcohol advertising and how it appeals to the female market by featuring attractive, feminine women in their ads. This only supports and persuades female college students to keep up with the males in drinking at college parties without seeming too masculine.
Spin the Bottle uses the sociological imagination to connect to larger societal issues, such as how industries are only looking to make a profit even if their product has negative effects on people and how the environment of college life affects how an individual makes his or her decisions. In particular, UMass Amherst has experienced out of control parties and riots, all stemming from binge drinking. In 2003, an uprising ensued after a Red Sox playoff game, in which 1,000 UMass students overturned cars, set fires, broke into a dining hall, and threw bottles at police.
This called for a supposed greater control over binge drinking and partying. However, three years later in October, town police reported to have arrested approximately 200 students since the start school, a third more than the year before (Schweitzer). In May of 2003, a pre-graduation party which consisted of over 1,500 UMass Amherst students turned into an uncontrollable riot. The so-called “Hobart Hoedown,” held on Hobart Lane, resulted in students throwing broken pieces of rock and beer bottles at passing cars and police officers.
The Amherst Fire Department extinguished a number of fires, one of which burned down a PVTA bus stop. In all, forty-five arrests were made and there were fifteen reported injuries among Amherst cops as well as police overtime at the cost of $20,000 (Lyman). More recently, in February 2008, a wild off-campus house party turned into a dangerous, drunken fight. Athletes allegedly attacked other people attending the party with baseball bats, lacrosse sticks, and bottles.
In addition around this time, two students were facing attempted murder charges in late-night conflicts in a UMass dormitory, which included an alleged rape and racially charged double stabbing. As expected, it is believed that binge drinking was the cause of these violent attacks and incidents (Schworm). Even this past weekend, ironically labeled “Blackout Weekend,” at UMass Amherst, twelve students were hospitalized and treated for serious alcohol intoxication at the Turn It Up dance party at the Mullins Center. Three other students who did not need medical attention but were drunk were placed in protective custody by police (DeForge).
Clearly, there is an abundance of issues and various occurrences stemming from binge drinking at UMass Amherst, and even with increased policing and enforcing of rules, these events continue to happen. UMass Amherst has made considerable efforts in trying to curtail the amount of drinking and partying that goes on in and around campus. In 2006, the university purchased “Frat Row,” an infamous string of Greek houses on North Pleasant Street, for $2. 5 million and demolished them (Schweitzer). UMass has implemented the So-Called Social Norms Campaign and has the BASICS program to fight binge drinking on campus.
At UMass-Amherst, 68% of men and 58% of women report drinking five or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks, according to the latest surveys. Both of these figures are well above the national average; however they do represent progress from years past. Since 2003, overall binge drinking has dropped 26%, and frequent heavy drinking is down 38% (Schworm). Thus, it is clear UMass has recognized binge drinking as a social problem on campus and is working on ways of trying to reduce it, although it still remains a significant issue.
Ultimately, binge drinking is an extensive social problem that exists on college campuses across America and startling statistics back up the huge numbers of students that are affected by drinking. Serious health problems, physical and sexual abuse, injuries, and poor grades are all penalties resulting from partaking in the risky behavior of binge drinking. There are various influences and reasons that encourage students to drink heavily, including peer pressure, academic and relationship stress, believing it is an accepted culture of college, and drinking to get drunk.
UMass in particular has experienced violence, property damage, and student injuries and deaths as a result of binge drinking. The university has recognized the problem and is being proactive about trying to reduce the amount of binge drinking on campus. Clearly, binge drinking is problem of epidemic proportions that is greatly affecting colleges in negative ways, and without actions and solutions to curb dangerous student behavior the issue will only continue to deteriorate campuses and the students themselves.
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