SCOPE: To create a social media program where in emerging adults can create and sustain a network of support that will lower the risks of negative outcomes as a result of drinking.

4Emily is a not-for-profit organization formed to honor the memory of Emily. To this end, we are researching the social phenomena of high-risk drinking among college-age adults and are attempting to identify methods that we hope will provide tangible benefits. Benefits intended to mitigate the inherent risks of unfortunate outcomes endured by students, parents, friends, and loved ones. Emily’s fate was extreme. She made several mistakes the night she died and paid an awful price. But in addition to this kind of extreme outcome, there are a number of inherent risks to the college drinking scene that are not so extreme but still can leave very real and lasting scars. These risks include:

  • Academic failure
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Alcohol-related assaults
  • Sexual assaults and rapes
  • Injuries from fighting / falling
  • Vehicle accidents and fatalities
  • Other legal consequences

Thanks to a large body of research (and anyone who has eyes) we know that many college students drink. Some drink a lot. In fact, 44% of college students binge drink. And we know (and they know) that getting drunk can and does lead to a number of bad outcomes. So why do they do it? Understanding “why” may lend some insight into ways to help.

In our investigation of the “Whys” of drinking during the college years, we’ve come across a number of obvious reasons. They’re not so obvious when a parent drops their son or daughter off at the dorm and plead with them to use common sense and ultimately ask the time honored parental question, “Why can’t you have fun without drinking alcohol?” In looking for ways to improve the safety of young adults we need to focus on examining the social forces “as they are” and not how we would “want them to be.”

Why College Students Drink

#1 Reason: Partying is FUN. There are a number of components that go into making it fun. But the bottom line is your son and daughter will most likely engage in this process because they have a good time doing it. There is an undeniable vibe that is generated from student parties. Drinking reduces anxiety and stress – people become more social. Some researchers have described an evening of drinking as a “time out” – a time to lay down your cares, your troubles, your stresses and relax. Have you noticed how college drinkers laugh a lot? Students believe that they are funnier when intoxicated. And drinking makes everything funnier. In the final analysis FUN is what college kids are after.

In their minds, the joys of intoxication outweigh the risks.

Recreational Chaos. Many students like to get wasted, fucked up, cratered, etc., etc. This collective drunkenness provides a recreational chaos that is characterized by overt drunkenness and outrageous behavior. Recreational chaos lays the groundwork for future war stories of how drunken cohorts navigate an evening of adventure, self-destruction, absurdity, voyeurism, exhibitionism and group irresponsibility.

Traditions and Rituals. Students participating in the drinking culture tend to reframe the unpleasant side effects in pleasant ways. The taste for alcohol is usually an acquired one much like cigarettes, or oysters. Learning to enjoy alcohol is a social process – they learn how to imbibe and enjoy the effects and also how to measure how “they do” when they’re intoxicated. Most college drinkers are not drinking by themselves – it is a collective experience; a collaborative effort. And from this effort students attach meanings to alcohol intoxication. The collegiate sub-culture is simple, hedonistic and met with little resistance from university administration. The Greek system is especially representative of this social process in that they create an atmosphere that promotes heavy drinking. Drinking is a collective celebration. The constellation of rituals and activities that is deeply imbedded in campus social life include:

  • Methods of consumption
  • Alcohol consumption is usually planned and semi-systematic:
    • Pre-Gaming
    • Bar Hopping
    • After-Hours
    • Goal Setting (how drunk do I want to get?)
  • Methods of getting alcohol (an older friend buying for a younger protégé)
  • Drinking Games
  • Desire to be more social (less inhibited)
  • Fraternity rites of passage / culture

College = Drinking. For many emerging adults, college and drinking go hand-in-hand. Nationally, 80 % of college students engage in drinking on a weekly basis – 44% Binge Drink. Students who enjoy the drinking scene are likely to find one another and hang out together – birds of a feather flocking together. Even an awful hang-over becomes a memorable experience when shared with friends. They become war stories that are shared through-out life.

This is Important ! Herein may lay the key to finding a partial solution.

Ways to Help

Obviously – by changing the culture so that young adults will moderate or completely abstain. Easy.

Actually, not so easy. This only SEEMS like the logical answer – but frankly it’s not realistic. Drinking is deeply ingrained in our culture at large and even more so at universities. It is our belief that these efforts here are not worthwhile. There have been many attempts to implement this kind of strategy and all have had trivial results.

We need to “scope” the project and define a realistic outcome that we are hoping to achieve.

So here it is: To create a social media program wherein emerging adults can themselves create and sustain a network of support that will lower the risks of negative outcomes as a result of drinking. The key here is to mitigate the risk – not to try to stop or even moderate the drinking. Not that this would not be desirable – it simply is outside the scope of our project.

Our hope is that if we can keep young people safe for long enough, they will simply “age out” of these years of high risk activities.

Want to learn more?

Check out Thomas Vander Ven’s book

Why College Students Drink Too Much and Party So Hard”