This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
2003 First Paper
Beirut, Pong, Quarters, Flip Cup, the Name Game, and 7-11 doubles are just a few of the names given to what is quickly becoming the new great American past-time for young people, drinking to excess. College-age students across the country have taken to channeling their energies into the creation of drinking games like these, without perhaps looking at the consequences of such creatively destructive behavior.
In the United States, forty-four percent of persons ages eighteen to twenty-one are enrolled in colleges or universities (1). According to recent statistics released by the Health and Education Center, forty-four percent of college students are categorized as heavy drinkers. Alcohol abuse is one of the biggest issues on college campuses nationwide, but what is it that makes excessive alcohol consumption such a concern in the year 2003?
Excessive alcohol consumption is often known as binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of at least five or more alcoholic beverages for men and four or more alcoholic beverages for women in a row on a given occasion (2). Studies show that in addition to the forty-four percent of college students who binge drink, one third of high school seniors also admit to having binged at least once in the two weeks prior to being surveyed. The greatest question posed, is why does such a destructive activity appeal in particular to this age group?
One might initially assume that all people in this age bracket are prone to participate in binge drinking. However, while forty-four percent of college students binge drink, only thirty-four percent of students the same age who are not enrolled in a college or university binge drink. There may be several reasons why those people who are submersed in academic environments are more likely to participate in excessive alcohol consumption.
The effects of alcoholic beverages are incredibly appealing to students who are enrolled in institutions of higher learning. Often these students are thrust into social situations to which they may not be accustomed. Alcohol consumption in many ways makes students feel more comfortable in the new collegiate social scene by creating a false sense of calm or euphoria, and use of alcohol throughout a studentís four year college experience often begins during a studentís freshman year.
The presence of alcohol on college campuses is overwhelming, and the availability to all students despite their legality is even more surprising. A running joke on most college campuses is that everyoneís favorite type of alcohol is either free or cheap. Students of legal drinking age are always more than willing to purchase alcohol for those who are not of legal drinking age. Many underage students will also go to great lengths in order to obtain alcohol by purchasing falsified identification or frequenting establishments near their respective campus which may have lax serving policies.
Alcohol is a depressant, which causes increased relaxation and decreased inhibition. Alcohol absorption begins immediately. The tissue in the mouth absorbs a very small percentage of the beverage when it is first consumed. Around twenty percent of the beverage is then absorbed by the stomach, and the remainder is absorbed by the small intestine, which distributes the alcohol throughout the body (2). The rate of absorption of the beverage is dependent on the concentration of the alcohol consumed, the type of drink, and whether the stomach is full or not. Carbonated beverages tend to intoxicate more quickly because they speed the process of absorption. Conversely, having a substantial meal will slow down the process of absorption.
The kidney and lungs together expel 10% of alcohol consumed, and the liver has the task of breaking down the remaining alcohol into acetic acid. The body only has the capability to expel 0.5 oz of alcohol, which is equivalent to one shot, glass of wine, or twelve ounce can of beer, per hour (3). Therefore, by definition, a binge drinking woman would have consumed four times the amount of alcohol her body is able to expel per hour. The altered state of mind that is caused by overindulgence can lead to any number of dangerous, potentially life-threatening situations.
Studies show that binge drinking is the cause of 1,400 deaths, over 500,000 injuries, and 70,000 cases of sexual assault/date rape each year (4). In addition to such serious personal risk, students under the influence also negatively affect their own educations and the educations of others by causing disruptions in both the academic and residential spheres of college and universities.
At the beginning of this paper I posed the question, what is it that makes excessive alcohol consumption such a societal concern in the year 2003? I think that the sheer number of articles and studies I found presented by both public and private organizations would answer this question; people are finally noticing a potential problem. These statistics speak for themselves. Collegiate binge drinking is an issue which must be addressed by colleges and universities in the United States. However, there is no evidence that a person who binge drinks in college will continue binge drinking after graduation. Certainly, some students continue alcohol abuse after graduation, but a predisposition for that condition should be taken into consideration, and I would venture to say that it is a small percentage of students who suffer problems of alcoholism and alcohol abuse later in life. I believe that this particular age group is prone to rebellion and experimentation. Some propose that lowering the legal drinking age to eighteen once again would remedy the situation. However, I believe that carefree behavior and to a certain extent, irresponsibility are inherent to this particular age group, and is merely a part of human maturation.
1) United States Census Bureau
2) The Health and Education Center
3) How Alcohol Works
4) Can We Change the Entire College Drinking Culture
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