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Drinking yourself to death - Mark's Journal
mhaithaca
mhaithaca
Drinking yourself to death
Friday's story about the Cornell sophomore who was found "unresponsive" by a fraternity brother wasn't very detailed, but the Sheriff has since stated that alcohol consumption may have played a role in his death. That's also true in the case of the Ithaca College freshman whose body was found in the snow not far from the South Hill campus early Saturday afternoon. Reading between the lines, it sounds as though that 17-year-old local girl was stumbling home drunk on Friday night, and never got there.

One of my biggest frustrations about these coincidental tragedies is that all the "alcohol education" in the world is of limited value when you take teenagers who've never been allowed to drink and put them in an environment where drinking is a) possible, and b) part of life. zercool_panem's post on the subject brought to the surface more of my thoughts on the matter, so I'm going to share them with you.

As I commented over on Brian's post, sometimes someone is just going to drink themselves into a coma. It sucks, and you can try to say "Dude, you've had enough," but once in a while there's just no stopping someone from ingesting so much alcohol, so fast, that it will kill them. I'm not suggesting you shouldn't try; I do sometimes say "You've had enough." Sometimes it works, sometimes not. If someone had said that to the sophomore, would he be alive today? Hard to say, but it's always worth a shot.

The freshman probably needed someone to say "Let me walk you home," or "Let me call you a cab." I know roughly where she was found, since a friend of mine lived on that road a couple of years ago. It's pretty close to campus as the crow flies, but it's an uphill slog through lightly populated area in the best of conditions. The night after several inches of messy, slippery snow, walking was probably a bad idea.

You can blame binge drinking, and that's certainly the basic, proximate cause, but what's behind the binge drinking? My opinion, and I know I'm not alone, is that it's an unintended consequence of raising the (effectively national) drinking age to 21 in the 1980s. (It's hypothetically up to each state, but the states were strongarmed into falling in line with the threat of federal highway funds being taken away.)

Simply, if the vast majority of college students could walk into a bar and have a drink, with the drinking age at 18, drinking just wouldn't be a big deal. If parents were legally allowed to let their kids have a glass of wine or a beer in their homes, without qualification, drinking just wouldn't be a big deal. Binge drinking happens because drinking's a big deal. Sure, people drank to excess in bars before the drinking age went up, but at least you've got some form of professional, responsible supervision of the alcohol consumption in bars.

If most college students can't drink at the bar, they'll drink in their cars. (Great idea, eh?) Or at home. They'll drink a lot, really fast, so they can get drunk and then go out where they won't be able to drink. This is why there are drinks like Four Loco, featuring the alcohol of four beers in a single can, plus enough caffeine to keep you wired for the party you're heading to.

I've got to be up front about this: I drink. Sometimes I drink more than I ought to. I got to Cornell as the last of the general on-campus bars intended for student use were closing down, inevitably killed by the drinking age. (There are still a couple -- the Regent Lounge in the Statler Hotel caters mostly to hotel guests but also has staff, faculty, and yes, student audiences; and somehow the bar at the campus bowling alley has quietly remained open.)

There are things we can say to make it less likely that college students (or others) will drink themselves to death, and you can be sure in the wake of these incidents, some students will be a little less hesitant to say "You've had enough," or "I'm taking you home." Some bouncers and bartenders will be a little quicker to look at an already-intoxicated arriving patron and say "No, we're not serving you." Some students might even say "Wow, I didn't know you could drink yourself to death. I'd better slow down." But that will fade.

A surprising number of college administrators have suggested that lowering the drinking age and thereby eliminating most of the reason for binge drinking is the best way to reduce the incidence of disastrous alcohol-related issues on and around college campuses. They know the pain caused to family members and friends when a student dies. Why aren't we listening to them?
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Comments
vvalkyri From: vvalkyri Date: March 1st, 2011 12:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I've felt similarly for a long time. First when I went to Israel before senior year on a BBYO trip, when almost everyone on the trip seemed to live to go to the bars every free night. As far as I was concerned alcohol was 1) expensive and 2) shrug. 'Cause I'd always been allowed a little of what my parents were having.

Sure, I"d somewhere in there decided to try to figure out what getting drunk was like; I"d discovered that soft plastic mugs and beer didn't taste good, and sugar didn't do vodka any favors, and I didn't like vodka in grapefruit juice nor white wine in orange juice. I eventually told Dad of these experiments; his response was you poured how much of my good vodka down the sink?

In college I hung with the geeks and didn't particularly binge drink; when I got to England I saw the advantage of the student bar: walking distance to get home, people who are watching out for young people. The 18 drinking age meant that the campus wans't divided between people who were old enough to drink legally and those who were doing so regardless.

Which isn't to say that the Brits didn't binge drink like there was no tomorrow. But at least it didn't involve possible cars or longer walks home.

The Israelis, OTOH, were used to wine from forever, and beer from an earlier age too (in '90 they'd just instituted an 18 age at bars but nobody carded) and going out on an evening meant drinkign as part of it but not, for the most part, to excess.

Also note: in many countries people are used to how their bodies react to alcohol before they start learning to drive.
belindashort From: belindashort Date: March 1st, 2011 10:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Also note: in many countries people are used to how their bodies react to alcohol before they start learning to drive."

This so fucking hard. You get some kids that have just barely learned how to drive, going to college and immediately being handed jagerbombs...
marwen42 From: marwen42 Date: March 1st, 2011 12:08 am (UTC) (Link)
This!

I've been saying pretty much *exactly* this for quite a while now. I grew up in Wisconsin, which I believe was the last state to raise the drinking age to 21. I don't think that the higher drinking age has been helpful at all -- it's just driven people to drink at house parties where there is no supervision. I have additional thoughts about the strict enforcement of "host" laws, but that issue is much less clear for me.
polypolyglot From: polypolyglot Date: March 1st, 2011 12:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Agreed!

marc_breaker From: marc_breaker Date: March 1st, 2011 04:55 am (UTC) (Link)
If you're old enough that the Federal government can conscript you into the military service, you should be old enough to drink. Why there hasn't been a class-action suit filed, I don't know.

Marc
beeeej From: beeeej Date: March 1st, 2011 10:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Filed against whom? The states set the drinking age, and can't conscript you into anything.

I also have a hard time imagining any court of proper jurisdiction viewing the lack of alcohol as a cognizable injury, or its consumption as a right rather than a privilege.
marc_breaker From: marc_breaker Date: March 2nd, 2011 04:43 am (UTC) (Link)
They are infringing on the right of a tax-paying citizen to spend their own money on a beverage of choice. As for the whom, I'm not sure, whoever controls the money that the States won't get if they don't set the drinking age at 21 (Federal Highway Department?) If you're old enough to vote for the people leading our country, you should be old enough to purchase a legal consumable.

I also think that they need to make the punishment for misuse of said consumable greater. Drinking and Driving is assault with a deadly weapon and public endangerment.

Marc
beeeej From: beeeej Date: March 2nd, 2011 07:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
They are infringing on the right of a tax-paying citizen to spend their own money on a beverage of choice

That's not a right any court has ever recognized.

If you're old enough to vote for the people leading our country, you should be old enough to purchase a legal consumable.

I don't disagree. But believing something to be wrong and having a cognizable legal claim for getting that something changed are two very different things.
belindashort From: belindashort Date: March 1st, 2011 10:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I completely agree about the drinking age. My parents allowed me to drink a bit here and there when I was young, and I had no interest in binging in college. Everyone that I knew in HS that wasn't allowed to drink/smoke/etc went to school and were the worst binge drinkers, and I am in a state with two 'party' colleges.

Now I'm not saying that all parents should let their kids drink, but certainly teaching them how to drink responsibly at a younger age could not hurt. It a lot like the sex problem...Kids are shut off and told not to do it, so they sneak around doing it. I'm glad my parents were a little smarter than that even if they sucked in other ways.
From: dblaser_ca Date: March 2nd, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I guess I'm one who will say the weird bit... I don't think that the drinking age is going to make a really big difference.

In my opinion, it's more about parents educating their kids.

I was drinking with my parents around when I was like 14 or 15. I had a glass of wine here and there with them, a rum and Coke once in a while didn't kill, but being allowed to do it around my parents didn't make it a big deal for me.

Out on my own when friends were drinking before we hit 18 (legal age here in the Great White North) I did't bother drinking because I knew what the legal age was and because drinking wasn't all that big a deal to me thanks to my parents letting me have some now and again at home.

The only time I ever truly went on a bender was well after I was legal age, I had way too much to drink, and there was someone around to keep an eye on me.

They taught me a lesson by making me sleep on the living room floor that night and dealing with the hangover the next day.

Lesson learned, I've never drank like that again. Been intoxicated, yes, but never to THAT degree.

And, yes, it was way, way worse than how I was in Oklahoma. I only had a few drinks there, and more of that was having fun than it was really seriously intoxicated. Didn't even wake up with a hangover.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand... education is the key. I don't think that the age at which someone goes out and drinks really makes a huge difference.

At least, not in my opinion.
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