23% of full-time college students report binge drinking three or more times during the previous two weeks…
50% of America's 5.4 million full-time college students abuse drugs or drink alcohol on binges at least once a month…
This spring, many County parents witnessed a child graduate from high school. In August a number of those same parents will leave a child at a college dorm and pray that the choices he makes in the months ahead will lead to personal growth rather than self-destruction. Why do so many college youth choose to engage in the self-destructive behavior of binge drinking (having five drinks for males and four drinks for females at one "drinking occasion”)? Two explanations are that binge drinking is fashionable and our culture gives mixed messages about alcohol consumption.
First, binge drinking is perceived as “fashionable” by a high percentage of college students. According to a 2008 study published by British researchers, 18-24 year old binge drinkers believe that all or most of their friends are binge drinkers as well. They copy the behavior of their friends, family members and colleagues. Binge drinking is the “in” thing to do.
Second, our culture gives young adults mixed messages about alcohol consumption. Media and advertisements sell social drinking, and in particular binge drinking, as a fun, typical activity for young adults. Moreover, although alcohol advertising was once illegal in Maine, State and Federal legislative bodies no longer closely regulate alcohol advertising. In 2003, the Beer Institute and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States voluntarily agreed to limit television advertising only to programs with adult audiences of 70% or greater. Not surprisingly, a 2007 study by Georgetown University's Center on Alcohol Advertising and Youth (CAMY) revealed that volunteer controls have not been implemented by a number of major brewers, including Budweiser, Miller, Coors, Hennessey Cognac, Smirnoff Vodka and Mike's Hard Lemonade. In fact, "youth ages 12-20 were exposed to an average of 216 TV ads for alcohol beverages in 2007, up from 201 in 2001.
Youth also receive mixed messages through adults. On the one hand, adults tell youth they have to wait to drink until they are 21 while on the other hand adult strangers, family members, acquaintances or store clerks are often the suppliers of alcohol to minors. A new survey found that 40% of youth under 21 said “they got their drinks for free from an adult…about one in four got their alcohol from an unrelated adult, about 6% got alcohol from a parent or guardian, and about 8% received their drinks from another family member.”
So what does all this mean? We as a society and community have to get our story straight. We have to communicate one, unified and consistent message to youth: underage and binge drinking is unsafe and unhealthy. This must be conveyed through media and adult behavior that communicates that binge drinking is unfashionable, by passing legislation placing limits on how alcohol can be advertised and imposing fines on violators, and by holding adults accountable when they supply alcohol to minors.
In 1908 there wasn’t a significant problem with youth binge drinking because the culture gave a clear message that doing so was unacceptable. We have to resurrect that message if we want to save our youth from self-destruction.
Statistics cited above are from a 2007 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University and from Join Together. Quotes are from articles published by Join Together.