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Emily* is a typical female college student on the outside, with a shocking story hidden on the inside. Emily began drinking before most students rode on their first bus … school bus! At the age of 4, Emily wasn’t given candy, but alcohol instead. As an incentive for repeating words back to her aunt she was given red wine. As Emily got older, her mother brought her to family parties, oblivious to what was going on. At these parties, Emily would typically drink scotch or whiskey, provided to her by the older men in the family. When 6th grade rolled around, Emily began drinking with friends, sneaking it into her room for sleepovers. High school was the same idea, although now, Emily consistently found herself drinking alone in the mornings, even before going to school. After graduation, Emily left home in D.C. for Boston’s Northeastern University. She described her first year in the city of Boston.
“I went all out; I didn’t have to worry about having my mom catch me drunk, I drank as much as I wanted to, whenever I wanted,” she said.
While, "going all out," Emily made other bad decisions, as a result of her bad drinking habits.
“I slept with a couple guys and never used protection. I had to use the Morning after pill on one occasion.”
Even after testing herself for HIV and other STDs, she continued to binge drink every weekend. This went on until last fall, when she nearly lost her life leaving a bar downtown. It was a cold, dark, rain driven late night/early morning in Boston and Emily wanted nothing more than to go home to bed. Yelling obscenities after leaving the bar, she was hit by a cab. Her head slammed into the pavement and she had a seizure. Her friends called 911 immediately and she was rushed to the hospital. After spending a few days in the hospital, Emily realized like always after a night of drinking that she was having trouble remembering the details. Only this time, things were different, she told me she couldn’t form short/long-term memories or even remember things in her past. Emily decided to take a look at her life, ultimately realizing she wasn’t happy with herself. Cold turkey appeared to be her only option with alcohol at the time and she gave it a shot.
Even with stories such as these being published in newspapers throughout the country on a daily basis,
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This past September a 24-year-old senior journalism major at the University of Central Oklahoma died, after drinking in excess for several hours. The police still haven’t decided if there was foul play involved with her death, but either way, it was alcohol related. Investigators said that if she hadn’t drank as much, she would have had more control over her decisions.
Another incident in September was at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Lynn Bailey, a typical 18-year-old freshman found himself participating in the Chi Psi fraternity initiation, on campus one weekend. Bailey was left by his fraternity brothers and friends and told to sleep off the alcohol, only he never did, dying of alcohol poisoning before anyone was even aware.
A national study conducted in 2002 by a federally appointed Task Force on College Drinking, showed that 1,400 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die every year as a result of alcohol abuse. Students are getting drunk, getting in cars, getting in accidents and not only hurting or killing themselves, but others as well, the study showed.
This study doesn’t even begin to touch on the students transported to the hospital, or the abuse that each individual is doing to his or her body during these careless nights of binge drinking.
When asked if binge drinking has been on the rise here at Northeastern, Jonathan Birnberg a clinical psychologist at the university said,
“No, I don’t think it’s worse now than in the past, the drinking has been pretty steady over the last six years, I think there is more publicity around Northeastern’s drinking and I think there’s tighter enforcement around it, but I don’t think the amount that the students drink is anymore,” Birnberg said.
The media attention Northeastern received is because of the riots that took place last year during the Superbowl and this year during the World Series. Although alcohol is what many blame the unruliness on, if this were really the case, don’t you think students would be smashing car windows on a regular weekend basis?
The issue of drinking increasing or decreasing as the student progresses with their education as stated earlier nationally tends to drop. In a local survey conducted at Northeastern for this article the results meet the general hypothesis with a 10/1 ratio of students saying the older they get the less of a need they feel to drink. Birnberg also agreed with the data saying,
“It absolutely does, I mean on average obviously, its freshmen and sophomores always (who drink) a lot more than middlers, juniors and seniors,” he said. “That’s what we hope to do; we hope that most students develop out of it.”
The vast majority of adults in the United States are not alcoholics, but why do some students grow out of it and others seem to get stuck, eventually finding themselves on a slippery slope.
There is no doubt that drinking on college campuses is out of control, but there is one important thing to keep in mind says Maureen Kelleher, Associate Professor of Sociology at Northeastern University.
“[Drinking] doesn’t just start in college, a lot of these kids are drinking in high school and one of the problems is a lot of the research really focuses in on college level drinking. A lot of kids that had very serious drinking problems in college actually had pretty serious drinking problems in high school," Kelleher said.
Professor Kelleher explained there aremany new developmental research progra with a primary focus is on middle school students and gender issues associated with alcohol. She said that campuses don’t really know where to begin offering help to incoming binge drinking freshmen.
“The kids that have been drinking seriously since high school take a lot more risks at the college level,” Kelleher said.
A Northeastern University survey conducted recently for this piece, had a few shocking discoveries to report. The data, which is the result of 50 undergraduate students, age varying, focused on the decline of college drinking as the student progresses in his or her education. When middlers, juniors and seniors were asked, was drinking a bigger deal to you freshmen year as opposed to now? Eighty % of students agreed, saying their drinking had declined with their age. The survey also asked students if they had ever been pressured to drink and 26% of them admitted that at one time or another, they had been. The most astonishing piece of data collected by far in this survey was, 15% of students when asked how much they typically drink on weekends answered, enough to get drunk with 41% having more than 12 drinks.
With freshmen drinking a large problem at Northeastern University, new programs were put in place to help decrease drinking. One new program, which the Northeastern University’s Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR) began using last year, was created by Outside the Classroom Inc. All underage students caught in possession, or consumption of alcohol must take the program's test, which must be completed online with a passing score of a 70 or better. Questions range from statistical information to effects alcohol has on the body and the mind. Wendy Olsen Interim Director of OSCCR said this year they are taking things a step further with the program, requiring all incoming freshmen to complete the online course. Although the results of this new test will not be known for another few years, Olsen believes that it will be a successful method.
“What we’re hoping it will do is help teach students to make more responsible choices when it comes to drinking,” said Olsen.
One of the toughest issues to deal with is students do not tend to come in and seek help. Northeastern does have an AA program on campus but students rarely check themselves in because they feel what they’re doing is what everyone else is doing, and that it is ok.
In a year at Northeastern, “the people that come in voluntarily just for alcohol my guess would be probably 20-30,” Berberg said. He said that the number rises when talking about students who come in for alcohol and depression or alcohol and fighting with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Last year it was estimated that about 1,000 students were caught for their first offense, whether they were just walking down the hall with a beer in their hand, or were transported to the hospital. The numbers, which are on the rise at Northeastern, prompted the online course and also stricter fines for students who don’t follow the University code of conduct. To break down the consequences of drinking and drugging at Northeastern it looks like this:
First offense, if you’re caught in the presence of alcohol or drugs, you will receive your first and only official warning from OSCCR.
First offense, if you’re caught drinking or with alcohol/drugs, you are put on probation and required to take the alcoholedu course online after paying a 50 dollar fine to the University.
Second offense, OSCCR believes you didn’t get it the first time and now requires you to meet in a counseling setting 4 times to talk about the effects of alcohol and other drugs. You are also placed on what is called, “deferred suspension,” and are required to pay a 100 dollar fine.
Third offense, OSCCR believes you have chosen alcohol over your college education. The University suspends you for up to 6 months, during which time you are required to meet with a counselor before returning.
Many students don’t realize that it doesn’t matter where they are caught drinking. If the student attends Northeastern and is caught anywhere in Boston for underage drinking, OSCCR is immediately notified. Boston police are even harder on students, said Olsen. Often times they will be arrested face charges and also be reprimanded by the school. The reason for this is because the police at Northeastern chose to work on a college campus with students, where as Boston police did not. Last year Northeastern Public Safety released an on-campus report of the number of students arrested for violating the liquor laws. The number then was 133 slightly higher than in 2001 and almost tripled the 59 that was reported in 2000. The number of drug violations has gone up as well but not as much as alcohol.
One common misconception of alcohol is that if you are just a social drinker, that it’s okay. This is wrong in the sense that social drinking is better than becoming an alcoholic, because you have control over when and how much you drink. At the same time, drinking can cause many health problems later in life, as well as short term problems such as black outs and memory loss. The 2003 Journal of American College Health conducted a survey two years ago, discovering, 9.4% of college students had experienced at least one blackout within the two weeks prior to taking the survey. Researchers discovered that during a blackout, when a person doesn’t remember anything that happens in a certain period of time, women are at a much higher risk of something happening to them, than men.
Chief researcher Ralph Hingson of the Boston University School of Public Health discovered that more than 70,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual abuse each year, the majority being female. One hundred thousand students said they were too intoxicated to remember if they had consented to the sex. Kelleher, who was aware of this study said,
“You’re transitioning into adulthood without sort of your historical support systems which is your family and friends and sometimes you have more superficial relationships and you don’t have the kind of intimate relationships until maybe you’re a junior or a senior. You’re kind of freefalling in some kinds of ways and there is nobody watching out for you.”
Emily explained to me the same freefalling experience during our interview. Luckily she was given the opportunity to overcome her binge drinking problem. In so many cases students do not get that second chance. Just remember next time you pick up a bottle, your life is in your hands, don’t drop it.
I am happy to report that Emily no longer binge drinks, and has realized there is more to life than the proof of your vodka. She is graduating from Northeastern University this spring, like many, unsure of what she will do with her degree, but unlike some, very sure of what she’s doing with her life.