Students around the country have started the fall semester after a long summer break, and ahead lies several weeks of buying last-minute supplies, signing up for clubs and getting lost on huge college campuses. Adjusting to life in college may also include a ubiquitous, but wildly unhealthy, part of the college experience: binge drinking.
But students who binge drink, which simply means consuming large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time, during their college years are more likely to risk future academic and professional failures, not to mention their long-term health.
This past July the parents of an 18-year-old student from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, who died from acute alcohol poisoning in 2008, spoke in front of Chancellor White and the board of trustees. After their son’s death they founded the non-profit organization Aware Awake Alive to raise awareness and prevent alcohol poisoning among youth.
Binge drinking increases the ability to make strikingly poor decisions about sexual activities and partners. It may also jeopardize the possibility of admittance to graduate or professional schools, and the likelihood of securing employment.
Not to mention the damage to students’ social media profiles as a result of being the drunken target of compromising video or photography. And as we all know by now: whatever happens online, stays online.
Incoming freshmen are the most vulnerable to succumb to peer pressure and binge drinking. After all, many students have left the comforts of their childhood homes for the first time and must now rise to the academic challenges and extracurricular activities while managing their own finances and household, and maybe even holding down a job. That amount of pressure is bound to build up some degree of stress. The question is, should the stress relief come in a bottle?
Binge drinking is the “most common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means consuming more than four to five drinks in a two-hour period would be enough for the CDC to consider you a binge drinker.
Those reluctant to validate the severe consequences of binge drinking refer to the medical establishment’s decision to exclude binging from the regular dependency spectrum. This reduces the stigma associated with alcoholism and substance abuse. But the physical harm associated with binge drinking is hard to miss: alcohol poisoning, liver disease, neurological damage, sexual dysfunction, and, of course, a dramatic increase in poor judgement leading to seriously questionable decisions such as drunk driving.
The rigors of college life may trigger binge drinking, but this behavior does not always originate in college. A 2011 CDC study revealed that 20 percent of female high school students engaged in binge drinking, and 38 percent regularly consumed alcohol. So not only are incoming freshmen more likely to arrive to college with poor alcohol habits, but they’re also more likely to engage in social binge drinking within the first few years of their academic careers. Those first years are vital to establish a connection with fellow students and professors, and may easily be wasted when binge drinking causes blackouts that regularly wipe clean the knowledge that students work so hard to attain.
Students at CSUN are no strangers to drug and alcohol consumption, including binge drinking. In 2011, the American College Health Association conducted a survey to examine the campus health trends. The survey revealed that within a one year period, 30 percent of CSUN students had experienced levels of stress severe enough to damage their academic performance, and more than 54 percent reported consuming alcohol on more than eight days within a 30-day period.
The survey also revealed that 25 percent of students later regretted something they did while intoxicated, 21 percent couldn’t remember what they were doing or where they were, and 14 percent had unprotected sex. But most devastating is the 29 percent of students who reported getting behind the wheel of a car after they had been drinking.
Reducing the number of college students who engage in binge drinking requires that we focus on the social context of drinking. The University of Michigan’s 2012 National Survey Results on Drug Use suggests that peer group behavior and the direct exposure to alcohol consumption greatly influence the severity of future substance abuse. The report also states that young adults between the ages of 19 and 22, the group that experienced the most binge drinking in the Michigan survey, are less likely to disapprove of heavy drinking on the weekends.
Academic demands and peer pressure in an unfamiliar setting places students under significant amounts of stress. But instead of seeking out venues where binge drinking is the norm, students should be encouraged to seek stress relief, or approval from peers, at entirely different outlets. Seeking professional help, either on or off campus, could mean the difference between making a successful transition to campus life or dropping out. The college experience is mostly about gaining the academic knowledge that will lead students into their professional careers. But it’s also about the company they keep and the choices they make along the way.