“You’re not an alcoholic until you graduate” is a common joke on college campuses, including Florida State University. As light-hearted as this may seem, it hosts a variety of dangerous implications. College is portrayed as a time in a young person’s life where consequences don’t matter and where unhealthy behaviors can be brushed aside as careless fun. However, binge drinking and other substance abuse problems are extraordinarily prevalent among students.
Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of five or more drinks in two hours for men and four or more drinks for women. Unfortunately, this has become relatively commonplace as 50 percent of college students binge drink regularly. Therefore, one out of every two students increases their risk of poor academic performance, suicide, committing crimes, and developing an alcohol use disorder later in life. It is estimated that 1,825 out of 88,000 deaths due to alcohol poisoning occurred in people ages 18 to 24. If you’re not an alcoholic until you graduate, there’s a high chance you’ll be one after; 20 percent of college students meet the clinical standards for alcoholism. Despite the obvious risks of irresponsible drinking, society has normalized its prevalence on college campuses. In fact, when asked to discuss the dangers of excessive drinking, college students acknowledge the risks of alcohol less than their non-student peers. College has become synonymous with false invincibility.
A major factor in college drinking behavior is social influence. Peer pressure, fraternities and sororities, and pluralistic ignorance serve as catalysts for the preexisting risks that independence and stress pose to students. Pearson’s Social Psychology textbook defines pluralistic ignorance as members of a group assuming that they are the only individual who is uncomfortable with common behaviors or ideas and therefore unwillingly abide by them, which can contribute to heavy drinking. For instance, students overestimate the amount their peers drink and often base their own drinking habits on their friends’ alcohol consumption. This suggests that drinking is an activity that is done mainly to conform to a group, regardless of how one perceives their own attitudes towards personal alcohol consumption. In addition, pluralistic ignorance silences the discussion about healthy drinking behavior in college by convincing students that they are alone in their desires to limit how much they drink, and imposes an ambiguous, albeit high, pressure to drink. Students who have a “denser social network,” or live in close quarters with many other individuals or participate in social clubs, are more likely to drink. This may be due to increased availability of alcohol or exposure to higher numbers of peers who drink. For example, if a student has many roommates, he or she is more likely to consume alcohol simply because of their immersion.
Greek life is linked to more severe incidents with binge drinking, especially as a result of alcohol-related hazing. Across the United States, colleges like Radford University, California Polytechnic State, and Pennsylvania State have lost students to alcohol poisoning during fraternity functions. In 2018, Florida State University sophomore Andrew Coffey died as a result of forced binge drinking during a fraternity hazing ritual. Even without hazing practices, students who are members of fraternities or sororities are more likely to drink.
Nearly 700,000 college students are assaulted by someone who has been drinking, yet college students continue to promote an idea of consensual sex that disregards the effects of alcohol.
While environmental factors play a large role in drinking behavior on campus, the students themselves have concerning personal motives for drinking. Pre-gaming is becoming more common and the majority of students surveyed about why they take part in it claim that it makes them feel less awkward about socializing. Alcohol is often considered a social beverage, yet should not be relied upon as an interpersonal crutch. Pre-gaming is believed among the student population to ease the stress of pursuing sexual encounters as well. This can increase the risk of regrettable, unsafe, or non-consensual sex, yet it is normalized as an acceptable way of boosting one’s chances to “hook up.” When irresponsible substance use is associated with sexual achievement, assault claims are taken less seriously because students see intoxication as a simple step in ensuring casual sex. Nearly 700,000 college students are assaulted by someone who has been drinking, yet college students continue to promote an idea of consensual sex that disregards the effects of alcohol.
For decades, college has been perceived as a free pass on substance abuse, but it’s time to begin acknowledging the dangerous habits and consequences of this normalization. Irresponsible alcohol use stems largely from conformity, and students must begin to understand that they have the ability to refuse to binge drink. Rather than portraying alcohol abuse as a requirement or a necessity to fully experiencing college life, society must aim to educate themselves about the more sinister effects of binge drinking. Curbing college alcoholism is not solely about student health – it’s about reducing the capacity for violence, sexual assault, and dependency that party culture embeds in individuals.