My son is a college junior and dormitory resident assistant. Periodically, he is required to host and teach educational forums and events for the freshman residents on his floor. He recently shared on social media pictures of his latest event, which was him teaching and providing resources on how to drink safely and responsibly. I gasped when I saw this post. My son is literally teaching underage students how to drink? I assumed when and if the university housing department sees this, surely he will lose his job.
Not only did he not lose his job, the “How to Drink Responsibly” class is practically a mandatory forum the RAs are required to hold. But how is it ok to teach students who legally should not be drinking, how to illegally drink the right way? To put it simply, it’s because these first time in college (and first time drinking for that matter) young people have no idea what they’re doing- the consequences of which can be fatal.
Teaching students how to drink responsibly is not endorsing or encouraging drinking, nor does it lead to more experimentation or interest in alcohol. It does however, inform students of the fact that there are actually “right” ways to drink, and to freshman who typically will only be exposed early on to “binge” drinking as “normal” drinking, this is crucial to their safety and well being.
Because one of a college’s many roles is to act in loco parentis, it’s only fitting that they assume the role of a parent in teaching about the dangers of alcohol. But in doing so, they’ve smartly recognized that along with reiterating the fact that underage drinking is an illegal activity that could potentially result in a misdemeanor arrest (or, in the least, a major violation of the campus code of conduct policy), is the need to educate their student population on not only the wrong reasons and ways to drink, but the right way to do so if they so choose.
Although an 18 year old’s reasons for drinking are far different than a 35 year old’s reasons for drinking, both need to learn and practice the same methods of drinking so to speak, and while the 35-year-old is most likely very aware of what that looks like, the 18-year-old? Well sadly, they don’t have a clue about even the most basic common sense practices when it comes to drinking.
What exactly are college kids doing wrong when it comes to drinking?
Pretty much everything, the majority of which includes “overuse,” and looks very much like what we now refer to as “binge” drinking- the most dangerous of drinking behaviors. Binge drinking is defined by the CDC as “a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours.”
And a survey by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that approximately 2 out of every 5 college students of all ages (more than 40 percent) reported binge drinking at least once in the 2 weeks prior. The dangers and consequences of college binge drinking are monumentally awful, and include;
*1,825 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries
*More than 690,000 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking
*More than 97,000 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape
*About 599,000 receive unintentional injuries while under the influence of alcohol
*About 25 percent report academic consequences of their drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers and receiving lower grades overall
*Between 1.2 and 1.5 percent indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use.
But how and why are college students drinking like this?
They’re drinking like this because it’s commonplace and considered “normal” among their peers. There’s no “slow” drinking, only a concerted effort to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible, something that the typical college party culture just continues to perpetuate. It’s that same party culture that ends up being glorified on social media, with an abundance of likes and comments over posts where kids are “so wasted,” and pictures depict the “epic fun” that is doing keg stands, or knocking back 4, 5, even 6 or more shots of hard liquor in a row.
Lost in all of this is the fact these students are totally unaware of things as obvious as their own body weight, how much they had to eat that day, what “percent alcohol by volume” actually means, the rate alcohol is metabolized by their bodies, and how that rate varies among men and women.
They also lack the mature toolbox required to not only notice when (but to also immediately intervene), when a friend has had too much to drink, putting a stop to the drinking, and taking steps to begin a safe sobering up process. And it’s for all those reasons that colleges are stepping in and teaching “safe drinking,” and it’s also why my son stood in front of 35 college freshman, and probably to the horror of their parents, taught them all what safe drinking looks like, and what it most certainly doesn’t look like, and the fatal things is can end up causing.
So if your college students mentions they had “drinking class,” don’t freak out. Rather, have an honest and supportive conversation, asking them what they learned, and how they plan on putting into practice the drinking methods and peer monitoring they’ve been taught.
For more information on college drinking, including extensive resources and what you can start doing at home while they’re still in high school to ensure responsible college drinking, visit College Drinking Prevention.