Higher education & binge drinking



Binge drinking has gone down for adolescents in the United States, which may be a consequence of successful national and state-level policies and programs on under-aged drinking. But in the alcohol drenched atmosphere of college life, binge drinking has sometimes become an even greater problem.

Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, wrote:

But what about when they go to college and suddenly enter an environment where sex and alcohol are rampant? For example, although fewer 18-year-olds now binge-drink, 21- to 22-year-olds still binge-drink at roughly the same rate as they have since the 1980s. One study found that teens who rapidly increased their binge-drinking were more at risk of alcohol dependence.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism‘s College Drinking Fact Sheet states:

Drinking at college has become a ritual that students often see as an integral part of their higher education experience. Many students come to college with established drinking habits, and the college environment can exacerbate the problem. According to a national survey, almost 60 percent of college students ages 18–22 drank alcohol in the past month, and almost 2 out of 3 of them engaged in binge drinking during that same timeframe.


About 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.  About 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. About 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

About 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an AUD. [Alcohol Use Discorder]. These include suicide attempts, health problems, injuries, unsafe sex, and driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as vandalism, property damage, and involvement with the police.


The City of Tuscaloosa, where the University of Alabama is located, may be just waiting for a lawsuit to happen because of its failure to enforce its own codes on under-aged drinking.

According to Alabama State Code Title 28 : 

It shall be unlawful: (a) For any person to sell, furnish, give to or purchase for any minor, alcoholic beverages; or to attempt to sell, furnish, give to or purchase for any minor, any alcoholic beverages.

Tuscaloosa’s City Code (Sec. 3-42. -Certain licensees not to admit under-aged persons) clearly states:

It shall be unlawful for a lounge liquor licensee, or manager, or other person in charge of the licensed establishment either directly, or by its servant, agent or employee, to admit or allow any person to be in, on, or upon said licensed premises in violation of any state law regulating the age of persons allowed on such premises.  

Could it be that the City of Tuscaloosa is taking the route of the Pinto auto-makers who knew that they were selling a defective product?  A simplified version would be that the automakers weighed the relative costs of litigation and correcting automobile design errors and decided that potential law suits were worth the risk.

Popular Mechanics’ “The Top Automotive Engineering Failures: The Ford Pinto Fuel Tanks” described industry thinking in this way:

Ford did a cost-benefit analysis. To fix the problems would cost an additional $11 per vehicle, and Ford weighed that $11 against the projected injury claims for severe burns, repair-costs claim rate and mortality. The total would have been approximately $113 million (including the engineering, the production delays and the parts for tens of thousands of cars), but damage payouts would cost only about $49 million, according to Ford’s math. So the fix was nixed, and the Pinto went into production in September 1970.

Or, the City of Tuscaloosa might find itself on the horns of a dilemma. There is a loophole in the law that allows most University students ( who are minors ) to be allowed into bars. Tuscaloosa’s downtown area has thriving businesses that serve alcohol and students feel as if they should be part of Tuscaloosa’s entertainment scene. It is impractical to expect the alcohol vendors to enforce liquor laws.

Alcohol Policy MD has described the problem in this way:

In many states throughout the country, minors – those under the legal drinking age of 21 – are permitted in bars unaccompanied by an adult. State and local regulations vary widely in the extent to which they permit minors to enter on-sale retail alcohol outlets

One thing is clear: allowing minors into drinking establishments such as bars and nightclubs is, in the words of one enforcement official, “a regulator’s nightmare.” (Inspector General 1991). It creates numerous difficulties for servers, who must conduct repeated identification checks and continuously track who is actually drinking the beverages being served. It allows minors to consume alcohol purchased from older individuals. And it encourages minors to drink as a way to socialize and become one with their peers.

Underage college drinkers are more likely than their of-age counterparts to suffer consequences ranging from unplanned sex, getting hurt or injured, requiring medical treatment for an alcohol overdose, and doing something they would later regret.  (Wechsler et al. 2000)  These problems often have impacts not just on the drinkers, but on fellow students and area residents as well.

The University of Alabama is aware of the problems associated with under-aged drinking, yet seems incapable of curbing it.

In Alabama, as the University’s student alcohol policy states, “Individuals under 21 years of age are not permitted to consume alcohol.”

The University acknowledges that:

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism college students face dire consequences due to high alcohol consumption. These estimates include:1,825 traditional aged college students  (between the ages of 18 and 24) die each year due to alcohol-related injuries; 696,000 are assaulted by a peer who has been drinking; 97,000 students are victims of an alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape; 400,000 students had unprotected sex, and more than 100,000 students report to being too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex, and more than 150,000 develop an alcohol-related health problem. (2009).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has described what a “perfect storm” in terms of campus alcohol abuse would be:

Factors related to specific college environments also are significant. Students attending schools with strong Greek systems and with prominent athletic programs tend to drink more than students at other types of schools. In terms of living arrangements, alcohol consumption is highest among students living in fraternities and sororities and lowest among commuting students who live with their families.


The University of Alabama’s plans for growth are centered on attracting out-of-state students. A New York Times article “How the University of Alabama Became a National Player” b


The University of Alabama is the fastest-growing flagship in the country. Enrollment hit 37,665 this fall, nearly a 58 percent increase over 2006. As critical as the student body jump: the kind of student the university is attracting. The average G.P.A. of entering freshmen is 3.66, up from 3.4 a decade ago, and the top quarter scored at least a 31 on the ACT, up from 27.

Each year, about 18 percent of freshmen leave their home state for college in another. They tend to be the best prepared academically and most able to pay, said Thomas G. Mortenson, senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, who tracks this data. Achieving students are likely to be bound for successful lives, enhancing their alma mater’s status and, the hope is, filling its coffers with donations. Schools want them.

The University of Alabama has 45 recruiters — 36 outside of Alabama, including Dee McGraw-Hickey, a Tuscaloosa native living on Long Island. Last spring, she tweeted as her recruits committed. In August, she held a send-off lunch at her home with sweet tea, lemonade and a game of corn hole in the backyard. Her schedule includes 80 events between September and Thanksgiving. She loves to mention merit aid at them because so many from her region — New York City, Long Island and Connecticut — qualify, giving Alabama a competitive edge.


Whatever mitigating parental influence on alcohol use that could exist is largely not a factor in Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama, where there is a preponderance of out-of-state students living away from their families.

In a city where even its local Chamber of Commerce’s business journal is named Rising Tide ( as in the University of Alabama’s “Crimson Tide” moniker ), what its students who reside here do is a very important issue. Can students have a safe and healthy educational experience under the current conditions in T-Town?






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