for release October 18, 2002
by Melodie Davis
Breaking the Student Drinking Culture
The recent columns I wrote on drinking on college/university campuses brought an e-mail almost immediately from a reader in Santa Maria, Calif., who actually knew the young man at Michigan State University who drank himself to death on his 21st birthday. Now I know his name, Bradley McCue, and a bit more about him.
As this friend said, "All that most people know of Brad is that he is a statistic. They do not know what a wonderful young man he was, what a wonderful family he came from, and the amount of potential that he possessed." Brad was majoring in parks and recreation management when died; he had worked as a camp counselor for several summers. He also coached and refereed youth in soccer programs. But Brad probably had no concrete idea that when your blood reaches a defined alcohol concentration level, your body goes into a coma and dies. Period.
The family founded an organization they called B.R.A.D. (Be Responsible About Drinking) to inform students about blood alcohol concentration levels. The organization also sends out birthday cards to tell Brad's story to students at MSU (or anyone else who request them) before their 21st birthday. (More information at www.brad21.org/ <http://www.brad21.org/>) This e-mail reminded me that indeed there is a person and a story behind every statistic you hear whether it is about youthful binge drinkers and drunken drivers, or their victims.
One woman wanted to remind me to that binge drinking isn't exactly anything new. "It has been going on for many, many years. It was prominent when I went to college (and I'm 60 years old.) The difference is that people talk about it now; they take surveys and have statistics. Alcohol has ruined more lives and families than anything else in the world. Back then, if someone was an alcoholic, no one knew about it ... I married an alcoholic. I had never even heard the term or knew that people drank and couldn't stop drinking."
One man, a 1997 graduate from a major university in Texas, was the lone dissenting voice. He argued, "[College students] drink because it's fun. It feels good. It lightens the mood, it helps deal with stress, it tastes good ... I'm not advocating irresponsible behavior. I lived in dorms for years ... and I remember the pools of vomit, the urine stains in carpets, the stale beer odor in the elevators. And to this day, I don't understand why I miss it so much. Maybe because it was fun? I know it is difficult for us in this puritanically based culture to understand how anyone could simply do something for the buzz. I spent a month in England back in the summer of 1995 and I can tell you that Americans have nothing on Europeans when it comes to drinking. And you know what? Europeans don't put each other on guilt trips about it, either...."
But most readers agreed that the articles were dead on and that binge drinking on campuses today has risen to a new level. One guy in his 70's told me, "Oh yeah, we drank when I was in college, sure, but we had one or two beers and that was it. We didn't drink for the point of getting drunk."
I did hear from a number of people from Europe and around the world, who expressed concern about the level of drinking in their country. From South Africa, Jolla wrote, "Unfortunately, the problem is not unique to North America. Having not so long ago graduated I sympathize with your daughter and know exactly what she is going through. I think it is good that parents discuss these issues with their offspring and listen to what they are saying. I was nearly raped by a gang of drunk students ... At the end of the day, we have to break the student culture of alcohol."
Joseph, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, wrote, "It is with sadness that so many lives are being destroyed by alcohol. It is good that you have made people aware of this. Recently there have been various incidents here connected to alcohol use. I wrote to our local newspapers and pointed out that tobacco companies have become liable for deaths due to smoking. But the alcohol industry gets away scott free. How do they do it?"
Good question. Big business has big lobbies supporting the alcohol industry. Need we say more? The worst of all this is that the drinking culture keeps drifting younger and younger: kids start their binge drinking in high school, even middle school.
I'm not for prohibition: that didn't work and produced the gangster culture and led to lots of crime. But when you look at the way attitudes about tobacco have changed in the U.S. in the last 30-40 years, you begin to wonder whether attitudes toward alcohol can change, too. Can we get to the place where anything more than one or two drinks is just uncool?
What do you say? Send responses to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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