Preventing binge drinking

Anita Babbitt

As young adults, many of us look forward to the day when we finally turn 21 and can go out on the town and drink legally. The reality is, however, that a lot of us do not wait until we are 21 to drink. Underage students often drink on campus in secrecy so security or RLAs don’t catch them. The need for secrecy drives some to do something that has become a huge problem in colleges: binge drinking.
Many underage students feel they have to get “wasted” before they go to a dance party or while they are at a party. The need to hide the alcohol makes people drink more alcohol more quickly. So instead of taking a few shots at a party, they take 10.
Binge drinking has serious consequences. In a 2008 survey, The New York Sun found that more than 40 percent of college students reported that they had at least one symptom of alcohol abuse or dependence. Each year, more than 500,000 college students suffer injuries related to drinking and about 1,700 die in drinking-related accidents.
These statistics have made colleges and universities across the United States sit up and take notice of how severe binge drinking has become on campuses and many institutions have tried to stop it.
In July 2008, John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College, started the Amethyst Initiative, which has been joined by over 100 chancellors and presidents of colleges and universities including Dartmouth, Duke, Ohio State and Ripon. The solution the Amethyst Initiative proposes may be surprising – these colleges are urging their states to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18.
The college presidents who have joined this initiative believe that because young adults under the age of 21 are not allowed to drink, they want to drink more and thus turn to binge drinking. They believe that lowering the drinking age to 18 would make young adults more responsible with alcohol and would prevent them from engaging in binge drinking. Often things are more appealing to young adults simply because they are forbidden.
There is a problem with this theory, however. Many people our age are so obsessed with the thought of getting drunk that many only really drink to get drunk. If 18 year-olds were given the right to go into a bar and order whatever drink they wanted, they would probably still want to drink as much as possible because they want to get that “happy feeling.”
I do believe that people should learn their limits with drinking before they come to college. Otherwise once they get to campuses they will tend to go overboard and binge drink.
At many colleges in the U.S., there is a lot of sexual abuse related to alcohol. In fact, according to the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 50 percent of sexual assaults at colleges are associated with alcohol use.
Colleges obviously understand that binge drinking has become a huge problem. Some colleges have responded by making their policies about drinking stricter, while others want to make them looser and allow more students to drink. The drinking age is a very sticky issue and there are very good arguments for both sides. In the end, I believe that the better course would be to lower the drinking age to 18 so that young adults can learn how to handle alcohol before going away to college.
However, I am worried that many young adults will not be responsible when given the right to drink at an earlier age, and that binge drinking won’t stop and might even increase. Just changing the drinking age is not a final solution. Something also has to be done to teach young adults that binge drinking can have dire and even fatal consequences.
The most practical way of teaching young adults about binge drinking and its effects, in my opinion, is to urge parents to talk to their children more about it. A lot of parents do not like talking to their children about that type of thing because it is an uncomfortable subject, but if young adults were more aware about what binge drinking could do, maybe they would be more careful when drinking themselves. Television stations could also help young adults learn about binge drinking and its consequences by playing more service announcements about this behavior.