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Alcohol and College Students: new consequences for old addictions

‘Drink! Drink! Drink!’ The refrain of a frat party on a modern campus? Certainly. But the same shouts rang out in the 20s and 30s when theater-going scholars embraced William Meyer-Fosters’s play Old Heidleberg, the story of a young German prince experiencing college’s trials and tribulations. When the play was adapted into a popular operetta called The Student Prince in 1954, young college students of the conservative post-World War II era could be heard singing the 'Drinking Song' with its rousing chorus of ‘Drink! Drink! Drink!’ in gatherings across college campuses. 
 
Some elements of student behavior are neither new nor unique. College students have always experimented with alcohol, and most likely they always will. In the past, one-on-one emotional relationships with others provided a moral compass and sounding board for students faced with such temptations. As I mentioned last week, however, technology and social media today have left many young people in the midst of a growing social chasm wherein their peers are more far flung and less genuinely connected than in the past. 
 
For those students who long for relationships outside of the virtual world, college is still filled with the same struggles as ever. Perhaps more than any other time in an individual's life, the need to belong, to fit in, to be a part of the crowd is pervasive in college. Even with all of our advances, negative peer pressure is still a powerful influence on students that can delay their growth into individuals confident enough to separate from the pack and begin their own, unique journeys in life. Even with all of our new addictions, alcohol still promises to grease the social wheels for students looking to fit into a peer group. One patient told me, "When I’m drunk I feel like I’m more fun to be with.” 
 
Alcohol has been around since the Stone Ages, and it’s a safe bet that since that time, young people have been pressuring one another to partake. Today, researchers state that four out of five students drink alcohol and roughly 50% of them binge drink. Not surprisingly then, wild house parties filled with students playing beer pong, taking shots of liquor, and posting drunken pictures on Facebook are not uncommon among college students today. 
 
In fact, peer norms, activities, and patterns correlate positively with binge drinking, making it a nearly universal aspect of college life. Unfortunately, while peer-induced binge drinking may be an old tradition, new technologies mean that the impact can be more far reaching. When future employers search for a recent graduate online, will they find images of the candidate passing out bowls of soup as part of a local outreach or simply passing out? 
 
The value of a real life peer group, a circle of friends who will support you and encourage you to make wise decisions, can not be overestimated, and while alcohol may win you friends for an evening, it does so at the cost of your health, your decision-making faculties, and your peace of mind. Attempting to unravel the events of a night of binge drinking should be lesson enough in the powers of alcohol to increase rather than reduce college stress.
 
Experimentation is a necessary and valuable component of college life. New freedoms have been granted us. New opportunities arise. We make mistakes and learn from them, discarding behaviors that don't enrich our lives. We learn to weigh life more consciously, to risk more wisely, and to take responsibility for our actions. Most importantly, we learn to respect ourselves and the lives and spirits of those around us.
 
Dr. Eileen Wynne PhD
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