We’ve all heard of binge drinking.  When we were in Drug Abuse Resistance Education in eighth grade, we probably all made the same pact—not to binge drink.  It’s unfortunate, the number of pacts we make just to break.  Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting for men, and four or more for women.  If that’s the accepted definition for binge drinking, then we have a very unfortunate reality on our hands—every weekend in a college town is one long celebration of binge drinking.

Binge drinking among college students is changing, but only by becoming more frequent, according to recentdatafrom the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  In what was one of the most insightful quotes I’ve ever read, the study notes “…as binge drinking increases, a college student’s risk of experiencing adverse effects of alcohol use significantly increases.”  You heard it here first—if you drink alcohol, it may affect you adversely.

The report goes on to note something truly interesting:  “Contrary to popular beliefs, drinking levels have actually remained relatively unchanged at the same level on college campuses during the past 30 years or so.”  That’s interesting to me, because 

It seems unfair to say that we lack information on the issue of binge drinking, as information about the dangers of many alcohol-related actions are not only easily accessible but prevalent.  Advertisers target teenagers and young adults with fear tactics, under the bizarre impression that by showing students their normal brain juxtaposed with their brain on drugs, a long-lasting and irreversible impression will surely be made.  Clearly, this isn’t the case.  Of course, a lack of good advertising can’t be the cause of binge drinking.

Drinking in college isn’t an issue of alcoholism or constant awful decisions. Drinking is social.  This must have something to do with the relatively unchanged levels of binge drinking.  If it wasn’t so much fun to head down to Dickson Street with your closest friends and drink a few brews, we might not have this problem.  I’m not coming to the defense of binge drinking––I’m simply pointing out that the issue at hand is, in fact, rooted in something enjoyable.

When beer becomes a bit of a problem is when it leads to things that are decidedly negative.  As the study reports, “students who binge one or two times during a two-week period are nearly three times as likely as non–binge drinkers to experience a blackout, have unprotected or unplanned sex, destroy property, suffer an injury, do poorly in school, have a run-in with the police or drive after consuming alcohol.”  None of these consequences are positive, and yet they prevail on college campuses around the nation.

The logical follow-up question seems something like this:  Well, what can we do about this situation?  As is often the case, the logical follow-up question is the hardest to answer.  Drinking alcohol isn’t intrinsically negative.  It’s social and it can be a ton of fun.  When it becomes negative is when the consequences begin to outweigh the benefits, as they so often do.  Perhaps it’s not the alcohol that needs to change, but the culture surrounding drinking on college campuses.  The idea that to “fit in” or “have a good time,” one must get totally hammered and make a myriad of bad decisions, is one that many view as some sort of rite of passage. It’s glamorized by music and movies, which have never given anyone a bad idea in the past.

It’s possible that more questions have been raised today than have been answered, but we know a few things for sure. The more you binge drink, the more likely you are to make a potentially bad decision.  We also know that binge drinking is defined pretty narrowly––so narrowly, in fact, that it qualifies the vast majority of us as binge drinkers.  Somewhere in all that, there’s a major disconnect.  We have a problem, and it’s not going anywhere.  Perhaps it’s time to stop gathering statistics and start discussing how to fix it.  

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