GUEST APPEARANCE: Widespread drinking on college campuses a serious social problem

Posted: Sunday, August 3, 2014 5:00 am


Beyond the issue of whether Anna, a William Smith college student, was sexually assaulted by three Hobart football players last fall at a Kappa Sigma fraternity party or whether the sex was consensual, the issue of alcohol abuse by college students needs be raised in such situations. It appears that everyone involved in this matter was under the influence of alcohol during the party.

Drinking loosens inhibitions and impairs the judgment of these young adults at a time when they are experiencing continuing physical, sexual and emotional changes in their lives.

Compared to non-drinking students, those who abuse alcohol are far more likely to be sexually irresponsible, to engage in illegal or antisocial activities, and to get lower grades in their coursework.

Alcohol interferes with an individual’s ability to make wise decisions about sex. One survey of college students indicated that frequent binge drinkers were five times more likely to engage in unplanned sexual activity and five-and-a-half times more likely to have unprotected sex than non-binge drinkers. Drinkers are also more likely to have multiple sex partners and to engage in other high-risk sexual activity. At college drinking parties, boundaries between consensual and non-consensual sexual activity can become blurry.

The college years are often associated with alcohol use and abuse. Studies have shown the proportion of drinkers is higher among 18-to-22-year-old college students than among others of that age group.

Alcohol abuse by college students may occur through binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks in a row). However, even lesser amounts of alcohol are often problematic. And alcohol use and abuse is often a gateway to dependence on cocaine, heroin and other harmful drugs.

Alcohol abuse at colleges is part of a larger problem. College students, many of them underage drinkers, are among large segments of our population who consume alcohol regularly for relaxation, entertainment or whatever, using alcohol as an artificial prop to have a good time.

Those who can control their drinking have difficulty understanding those who cannot - the millions of alcoholics in America. When college students decide not to drink, whether they are recovering alcoholics or non-alcoholics who just don’t like or need the effects of alcohol, they are apt to be regarded as prudes by non-abstaining students. There is considerable peer pressure to drink while attending college.

Considering its relationship to suicide, violence and crime, to family disruption and broken homes, to highway casualties and dangers, to job loss and absenteeism, to poverty and deprivation, to all sorts of psychological and medical ailments, the human and economic costs of alcohol consumption have become enormous.

I am encouraged that administrators at Hobart and William Smith Colleges have initiated concrete measures to improve handling of allegations like those made by Anna, but what will they do about campus drinking problems, including alcohol abuse by students under age 21?

College officials everywhere need to do a better job of preventing alcohol abuse by students - just as the United States needs to do a better job of changing from an alcohol-dependent country to a more sober one, even though the search for solutions will not be easy.

Joel Freedman of Canandaigua, now retired, has taught human services and social sciences at Finger Lakes Community College.


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