A shot of my life: Growing up and going to college in a culture of alcohol
February 26, 2013
“In college, I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that alcohol is harmless because everybody’s doing it,” said Monica Skewes, an Assistant Term Psychology Professor. “A lot of time college students live in this environment, so pro-alcohol, that they don’t quite realize that not everybody does drink.”
I grew up in a small town in Arkansas and lived in Germany until my junior year of high school. Growing up I saw drunk men beat their wives in the common grounds of apartment complexes, ex-cons high on whiskey and cocaine die in police chases and I’ve heard people’s entire lives after one too many beers.
We moved to Alaska when I was 16. During my senior year of high school I applied to UAF. I expected college to be at once everything like in the movies and nothing like it all. Regardless of my expectations, the one thing that was the same was the use of alcohol.
My general requirement classes were filled with intense recaps of whatshisname’s parties, drugs and something crazy someone had done because they were wasted. I felt like I was missing out on some horrible but essential part of the college experience.
“People’s perceptions of what is a normal or healthy amount of alcohol to consume at once is skewed in college,” Skewes said. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, three in four college students will use alcohol and half will participate in binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as five drinks in one sitting for a man and four drinks for a woman. This is also the amount it takes for a person’s blood alcohol content to reach 0.08. A recent Huffington Post article talked about how college women are binge drinking more often than men, although men still drink relatively higher than their female counterparts.
When I was 14, my parents let me ring in our second New Year in Germany by drinking alcohol. My dad had this philosophy that if his children were going to drink, it should be done in the home. That night I realized the social and psychological consequences that too much alcohol can have. I woke up the next morning to grown ups knocked out or trying to cure their hangovers.
In college, the consequences are the same. Skewes said that a lot of college students overestimate the consequences of drinking and often associate it with an extreme consequences such as blacking out. However, the consequences can be as simple as poor academic performance or as bad as assault, sexually transmitted diseases and car accidents.
The idea that college is a place where people drink a lot, fuels the pro-alcohol illusion that is associated with the college experience. According to the NIAAA, college students are more likely to engage in negative alcohol behavior compared to their non-college counterparts. Part of this reason may be due to the fact that college students have more time on their hands. But another influencing factor may be our pro-alcohol culture.
Through ads, movies, television shows and blogs, the most hilarious draw-dropping stories are often those filled with intoxicated people. In our culture, people do not simply drink to drink, they drink to get drunk.
This expectation that there is more fun to be had with alcohol is created from an early age. The fall of my sophomore year of high school exemplified perceptions of what being a teenager meant. Smoking weed, casual sex and hotel parties with alcohol provided by the parents, began to define our adolescence. Although I found myself the odd one out, these experiences didn’t start then. They had begun in middle school, and for some of my friends, even earlier.
According to the NIAAA, 80 percent of college students will drink alcohol and half of those students have binged in the last month. Alcohol studies conducted at UAF are close to the national average. The study took into account UAF’s older age demographic by focusing on first-year freshman. Alaska Native students were more likely to be abstinent from alcohol but for those who did drink, they had a the same rate of problem drinking as non-Native students.
By the time most people graduate from college, they will mellow out of their bad drinking behaviors, partly due to growing up. I don’t think drinking is bad in moderation. We often hear stories about how for some people, college was some of the best years of their lives. I think that’s awesome because college offers a lot of great experiences and I feel that alcohol can be a part of those memories. Alcohol just shouldn’t define, measure or be a prerequisite for those memorable times.
Full disclosure: Lakeidra Chavis is a Research Assistant for Dr. Skewes for the UAF Psychology Department.