Keeping up with the college kids

It is no secret that there is a set of unwritten rules when it comes to drinking alcohol in college. With these rules come expectations that many strive to meet. All too often, alcohol-related incidents occur on campuses all over the nation — and they are brushed aside.

Being aware of the effects of peer pressure and recognizing alcohol’s contribution to many issues on campuses such as sexual assault, injury, addiction, and even death can help us make responsible choices for ourselves and change the standard.

An article from NYU reported “80% of college students have at least one alcoholic drink over a two-week time period. … of these college students, 40% are binge drinking … which greatly surpasses the rate of their non-college peers.”

College creates an environment where binge drinking is encouraged through peer pressure, which accounts for that difference. NYU defined peer pressure as “the direct or indirect encouragement from one’s own age group to engage in activities that they may or may not want to engage in.” 

In college, binge drinking is normalized and somewhat expected. It is socially accepted and is seen as a way to create social connections. Thus, binge drinking is taken lightly and not often questioned.

Subconsciously, we strive to fit in and gain acceptance from peers. We’re susceptible to the fear of missing out when we see classmates go to parties, bars and sporting events where binge drinking is prevalent. Freshmen are particularly dependent on others when adapting to the new environment, but  students under 21 are not excluded from the expectations to drink.

In addition, those who are able to drink excessively are perceived as more fun and cool. We are fed this message through social conditioning by our peers and the media. 

The 2012 film “Project X,” for example, centers around three high school seniors whose goal is to throw an unforgettable party. The movie features excessive drinking, which leads to injured people, damaged property and three main characters praised for throwing the best party of the year. 

Greek life represents a bubble where peer pressure can be even more common. 

According to the American Psychological Association, “Members of fraternities and sororities do drink more heavily than their non-Greek peers, referred to as the ‘Greek Effect.’ Research also shows that the Greek Effect results from the perception among members that their friends drink heavily and support excessive drinking habits.”

Addiction Center, an informational website for those struggling with substance abuse, reports “up to 62% of sorority members admit to drinking heavily compared to only about 41% of college women not in the Greek system.”

Certainly, fraternity and sorority members are not the only ones who binge drink, but the Greek Effect shows how persuasive peer pressure can be. 

College drinking culture cannot be discussed without mentioning the dangers of hazing. According to Addiction Center, 55% of students who join fraternities, sororities or other campus groups experience hazing.

One such student was 19-year-old Tim Piazza, a student at Pennsylvania State University and a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. As a result of hazing rituals conducted in February 2017, Piazza’s blood alcohol content was about 0.40 — a potentially fatal level. Two days later, Piazza was pronounced dead because of intense head trauma endured while intoxicated, specifically by falling several times. 

Tragically, Piazza was a victim of the drinking culture that runs rampant throughout many universities.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that an estimated 1,519 student deaths each year are related to drinking, including motor vehicle accidents.

College drinking culture has also turned alcohol into a weapon for people to take advantage of others. The American Addiction Center found alcohol is often used the facilitate sexual assault on campus. For example, it can happen whether the victim is drugged and therefore vulnerable, or drunk and thus unable to give consent.

“[Fifty percent] of sexual assaults on campus involve alcohol,” the center stated. “Approximately 90% of rapes perpetrated by an acquaintance of the victim involve alcohol. About 43% of sexual assault events involve alcohol use by the victim, and 69% involve alcohol use by the perpetrator.”

These findings are shocking. College drinking culture has turned alcohol into a weapon for people to take advantage of others.

Awareness of the harmful nature of college drinking culture can inspire social change. If we can collectively recognize the influence of peer pressure, we can transform the culture around drinking. We have the power to switch the narrative.

Before going out, it is important to think about why one may want to drink. Peer pressure can create a slippery slope and lead people toward bad situations. I implore everyone to think independently, look after themselves and be smart when drinking.

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