For years, alcohol has been virtually synonymous with college life. Indeed in all likelihood, the first graduates from this country’s original universities held raging parties every Friday night.
Most people think that drinking and college simply go together, and from my experience, most students feel the same way. Each weekend, and many weeknights, the house that I share with seven twenty-somethings, most of whom attend college, is filled with people playing cards while drinking, or engaged in some other wildly entertaining drinking game. Often times, however, these seemingly harmless good times can go too far. Heavy or binge drinking (defined as five drinks for males or four for females in one sitting), can have serious and long-lasting effects.
A new study by the Prevention Research Center indicates that when college kids drink, about 10 percent of the time they will consume 12 or more alcoholic beverages. Among males only, this rate jumps to 20 percent. Here as well as across the country, when students get together to have a good time and alcohol is involved, the results are often tragic. According to the international news company, Reuters, 2.8 million college attendees drink and drive and more than 1,700 die from alcohol poisoning or accidents per year in this country. In addition, more than 600,000 students suffered an injury because of alcohol.
Here at the University of Maine, the student newspaper each week is filled with reports of students getting arrested or summoned for alcohol-related incidents. In fact, incidences of OUI’s at this campus rose the past year, from 27 in 2003-2004 to more than 39 in the 2004-2005 school year.
Physical problems are also common for many whose experience of “harmless fun” gets out of hand. Chronic alcohol use can lead to kidney, liver and heart problems. In addition, according to one survey, 75 percent of patients being treated for alcohol dependence satisfy the criteria for sexual dysfunction. Counter-intuitively, alcohol can destroy social relationships. A recent study by Brown University outlining the short-term effects of binge drinking stated, “Seventy percent of college students admit to engaging in unplanned sexual activity primarily as a result of drinking or to having sex they wouldn’t have had if they had been sober. Alcohol is involved in over 90 percent of all campus rapes. Alcohol makes some drinkers violent and 50 percent of non-academic discipline cases at Brown involve alcohol.”
And drinking, for many, also impinges on the very reason that students are in college in the first place. For those who have a grade point average of A, no more than three drinks on average are consumed per week. By contrast, those who average D’s and F’s have more than 11 drinks. The National Institute on Alcoholism and Abuse reports that as many as 25 percent of students have suffered academically from drinking. Alcohol is rampant on most college campuses and in the apartments surrounding these campuses where there is less regulation, the liquor flows much like the Stillwater River.
While not everyone in college drinks to excess, and not everyone who drinks at parties does so irresponsibly, clearly a crisis has arisen which has received an unforgivably diminutive amount of attention. The trouble is that most students are unaware of how much they drink and the risks that their activities pose. ABC news reports that the majority of college drinkers vastly underestimate their alcohol consumption.
Andrew Littlefield, a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia, has conducted research on the subject. “Though many problems are associated with college student substance use, such as low grades and poor health, the vast majority of students fail to perceive their habits as problematic, especially in regard to alcohol,” he said. Littlefield presented the findings of his survey to Congress on April 19.
Certainly something must be done to counter this negative trend. It is unrealistic to hope that drinking will simply disappear at schools such as UMaine. However, steps can be taken to make students cognizant of the dangers of heavy drinking. Here at Orono, there is a student forum on the Internet that discusses alcohol and drug topics. If more students participate and a real, honest conversation is initiated, perhaps more students would think twice about how much and where they decide to drink. We have also had experts come to speak about alcohol consumption; however, not many students attend.
Perhaps a better idea could be adopted from an event held by students at Sam Houston State in Texas. There, on May 2 and 3, organizers have been holding “red-flag” days in which little red flags will be posted all over the campus. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness that alcohol abuse is a problem. Dr. Michelle Lovering from SHS’s University Health Center explains: “We just want to make sure students notice the signs and know that there are resources they can go to for help.”
Specific programs in communities and mandatory classes may also be effective in reducing alcohol-related accidents and-or incidents. The students at UMaine would certainly benefit from efforts. Alcohol abuse will most likely remain an issue at college campuses in Maine and around the country for years to come unless action is taken. The messages and education are out there. It is time to make students listen.
Michael Rocque is a senior at the University of Maine in Orono and will be pursuing studies in criminology.