Weekend warriors: Finals have finally begun to rear their ugly faces once more, and if you’re anything like me, you’re doing everything except writing those four essays due this week. The stress imbued in this time of year can be hard to manage, and coping with it can prove more difficult than your last exams. There are a great many ways to hash out one’s worries, but it’s all too easy to fall into unhealthy coping mechanisms, especially ones centered around substance abuse. In the college sphere, where alcohol reigns king, alcoholism can, too.
The normalization of binge drinking on college campuses is nothing new, and progress to combat it has been iffy at best. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that a national survey found “about 20 percent meet the criteria for an [alcohol use disorder].” A quarter of college students also admitted that alcohol consumption led to academic consequences such as missing class or receiving a poor grade. Despite the number of deaths attributed to alcohol increasing by 35 percent in the last decade, alcohol-related deaths among teenagers have declined by 16 percent. In 1994, 44 percent of college students were reported binge drinkers, higher than the rate we see now. Although the numbers might suggest that more responsible drinking is becoming the norm, there is a history of failing efforts to curb abusive habits in a society where as many as 60 percent of adults who drink say it’s a way of coping with stress.
The struggle to combat excessive drinking in colleges across the United States has persisted for decades, with institutions wanting to respect students as responsible adults while maintaining a face of authority and control. Robert Saltz of the Prevention Research Center claims that colleges’ favored approach for supplying information about alcohol abuse isn’t enough, that what has been learned in decades of studying the topic is that better enforcement changes behavior. Bars and Greek life, where students have few barriers to accessing alcohol, can be especially hostile to these strong-arm approaches. Universities, meanwhile, have hit funding walls again and again, unable to find effective measures that yield meaningful results before the money dries up. Combine that with changing administrations and pressure from alumni, and it hasn’t gotten any easier.
I’ve yet to come across someone who denies that college alcoholism is a problem, but I’ve heard many times that there isn’t much that can be done about it. I’d say that’s wrong. Surely, no problem can be solved if we assume it’s unfixable. Therein sits a significant factor in why it persists — the culture refuses to change. The friction from every angle hasn’t made much progress, if any at all, but the situation is far from hopeless.
A number of solutions have been proposed, ranging from restricting access to alcohol to reopening the campus bar, but there’s more to it than that. A 2016 study found that graduates drank fewer drinks after college, but continued to drink with the same frequency, so the habits we establish in college stay with us when we leave. If the governing bodies of the University can strike a balance — as a student must do between work and play — perhaps there is a common-sense policy that could replace our current blind-eyeing and help establish positive patterns for life.
I don’t think college drinking should stop. Like many others, I see it as part of the experience, and outright ending it would be detrimental to the maturity that college endows us with. Universities can find a comfortable middle ground for healthy drinking habits to exist if they smartly weigh what students want and what students need. Negligence, as it stands now, only enables us to misuse alcohol, and as the times change and perspectives adjust, so must our methods of addressing alcohol abuse.
Evan Moravansky is a junior majoring in English.