In many ways, drinking alcohol in college has become a rite of passage: from TV, movies, and music, college drinking is portrayed as being as inseparable from undergraduate academia as grades and all-night study sessions.
To put into perspective the pervasive use of alcohol in college, a recent national survey found that within the past month, almost 60% of college students had consumed alcohol with almost 2 out of 3 students engaging in binge drinking.
Unfortunately, college drinking can have serious consequences. Criminal charges such as DUI or sexual assault are common, as are the negative effects on the student’s education, health, and future. Despite these risks, students continue to binge drink and abuse alcohol during college in part because of drinking culture.
Drinking Culture Defined
Why is alcohol abuse in college so widespread despite the dangers being well-known?
The answer, like the problem itself, is complicated and can be largely explained by the phenomenon of drinking culture. As the term used to define the customs and practices associated with consuming alcohol, the existence of drinking culture can explain why, despite scientific research that proves the multi-faceted negative repercussions of college drinking, it continues to be common nationwide.
There are several aspects of drinking culture that make it hard to separate from our society, especially during the college years.
First, it’s considered normal for college students to drink alcohol and even binge drinking—a dangerous practice that involves consuming large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time– is a widely accepted practice. College parties rarely lack alcohol even on dry campuses, and many fraternities and sororities even use binge drinking challenges as part of their initiation. College administrations are often unable or unwilling to devote the money and other resources necessary to prevent college drinking on a large scale, and prefer to treat it as an individual problem, rather than a sociological one.
Many restaurants and bars in college towns take advantage of the college drinking culture by offering cheap drinks to college students, making it easy for students to drink too much, too quickly. “Game Day” drink specials and the popularity of tailgating during games also reinforces the normalcy of alcohol abuse in relation to college sports.
For many, college is the first time students are away from their families; this isolation makes the importance of friends increase, as students look to their peers for support and acceptance. Positive friends at this stage are critical, as peer pressure can often increase the likelihood of alcohol abuse.
Short-Term Consequences of College Drinking
But what are the real ramifications of college drinking?
In the short-term, alcohol use in college negatively impacts a student’s grades and their ability to thrive academically. Falling behind on coursework from too much partying and missing classes because of hangovers can cause students to lose scholarships or even lead to academic probation, suspension, or expulsion.
Alcohol use can also lead to mental health problems such as depression. For students who already struggle with mental health issues, adding a depressant like alcohol can increase symptoms or reduce the effectiveness of mental health treatment, including prescription medications.
One common way that alcohol use can damage a college student’s life is when that student is arrested for driving under the influence. In California, DUI charges come with heavy penalties that increase for each subsequent offense: fines, increased insurance rates, license suspension, and even jail time can result. The repercussions for DUI can occur even to those students who are not over the legal blood alcohol level as errors both in alcohol level testing and police process can lead to false convictions.
College sexual assaults often involve alcohol and can ruin a student’s life. California law defines rape as sexual intercourse with another person without their consent under Penal Code 216. The law also states that if a person is too intoxicated, either by alcohol or drugs, they are unable to give consent and if sex does occur, the other party can be convicted of rape. Allegations of rape have serious consequences and without an experienced California sex crimes defense lawyer, a conviction can lead to jail time, mandatory registration as a sex offender, and loss of future employment and other opportunities.
Perhaps the scariest aspect of drinking culture and especially binge-drinking in college, is the possibility of accidental death and alcohol poisoning. Whether from mixing alcohol with other substances (including prescription medications), drunk driving, or from simply drinking too much at once, alcohol-related deaths on college campuses occur all too often: roughly 1,825 college students die from alcohol-related causes each year.
Long-Term Consequences of Drinking Culture
Unfortunately for many, alcohol abuse does not stop at graduation. Habitual college drinking can lead to alcoholism later in life, requiring professional treatment. Long-term alcohol use can also affect the individual’s professional and personal life, making holding a job or maintaining relationships difficult. The longer the individual abuses alcohol, the higher the chances of being charged with an alcohol-related crime, such as DUI, over time leading to mandatory alcohol treatment (such as attending Alcoholics Anonymous), fines, loss of driver’s license and even jail time.
The true effect of drinking culture in college is that alcohol, and the consequences of overuse, are often downplayed or disregarded because of the prevalence of college drinking. Until college alcohol abuse is seen as a problem and not the norm, students will continue to fall victim to the legal, medical, professional, and academic risks of its use.