--> divine angst

Thursday, September 09, 2004

This crap really infuriates me. I particularly like this bit:
Most research defines "binge drinking" as having five or more drinks in a row, without counting how far past five the drinkers go.

The Berkeley, California-based nonprofit health research institute found that many of the 1,000 male college drinkers surveyed said they had 24 or more drinks in a row.

"These are levels of drinking at which most men will have passed out or become comatose," said Paul Gruenewald, who led the study.

Well, sure, if someone consumes 24 drinks in a couple of hours, they will indeed be comatose. But the researchers didn't specify over what period of time these young men had these 24 drinks.

There are two glaring problems with this sort of news article. The first is that these reports are so vague that anyone who drinks could be considered a binge drinker. After all, binge drinking is defined as "five or more drinks in a row" So does this mean that, at a tailgate party that could last up to four hours, a young man who has a six-pack is a binge drinker? I guess that means my husband and my father are both binge drinkers, too, then, and most of our friends, and, oh yes, me. Or how about a group out at a nice restaurant for three or so hours, who have several bottles of wine. Those people must be binge drinkers as well.

So that's problem one—vague reporting that equates to fear-mongering.

Problem two: The attitude towards drinking taken by these researchers and/or reporters only serves to worsen the issue. Remember—alcohol in itself isn't bad. It's when it is abused that problems arise. More concretely, the heaviest drinkers I know often grew up in very strict households where alcohol was absolutely forbidden. What happens when you tell a kid they can't have something? They want it more. Turn that around, and the people I know with the healthiest attitudes about drinking were often exposed to it at an early age—by seeing their parents drink responsibily at meals and perhaps being given, for instance, a small glass of wine with dinner.

The fact is that college students drink. They are not going to stop drinking—the genie is way out of the bottle, no pun intended. So what is the solution? Make college students more responsible drinkers. And the way to do that is not to broadcast how dangerous binge drinking is, telling the world how awful it is. No, instead, we should provide college students opportunities to show that they can be responsible with alcohol in adult settings. My undergrad institution used to have a tradition of "Thursday Night Kegs"—students and faculty would join together on Thursday nights, in common campus areas, to socialize and have a few drinks. Liability issues forced the administration to ban kegs from campus. Since the ban, hard liquor use on campus has drastically risen, and more occurences of alcohol poisoning are reported every year.

See, when the students were placed in an adult context with other adults, socializing and drinking responsibly, everyone had a good time. No, that's not to say there were no problems—there are always problems. But the problems were fewer.

If we want college students to act like responsible, adult drinkers, we need to treat them like responsible adult drinkers. Treating them like children who are bound to get into trouble will only encourage them to test the waters.