By: Andrea Jones

Original Source: www.teenvogue.com

College and drinking: two concepts so closely linked that many students can’t conceive of one without the other. However, it may be surprising to learn that binge drinking among college students has dropped 13% over the past decade. While it would be foolish to pretend that binge drinking isn’t still prevalent on many American campuses, this is a very significant (and fortunate) decrease.

So what’s behind the fall in binge drinking students? What’s the reality of being a sober scholar, and can college be just as fun without drinking?

While many see binge drinking as more of a modern plague, young people have been drinking too much at college for a long time. As far back as the 1850s, historian Harvey Adams recounted that he and his Harvard classmates were “apt to drink hard and to live low lives.” The two cultures further entwined throughout the 20th century.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports some worrying statistics: 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, 20% of students struggle with an alcohol use disorder each year, more than 690,000 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, and more than 97,000 become the victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Drinking also has long-term consequences. About 25% of college students report damage to their academic performance as a result of their drinking. Consequences including missed classes, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades. Most upsetting of all, more than 150,000 students each year develop an alcohol-related health problem.

Things have gone too far, and it was statistics like this that began to tip our academic establishments over the edge. Many colleges let drinking culture dominate so much that students were attending with the main intention of partying, not studying. For several schools, that was the last straw.

Frostburg State University is one college actively fighting against the domination of drinking culture, and the results are certainly encouraging. When FSU president Jonathan Gibralter joined the college in 2006, over half the students said they binged on alcohol at least once every two weeks. There was a culture of 24-hour beer pong tournaments, dime beer nights, and even a “drink of the week” section in the student paper. Today, bi-weekly binge drinking at FSU has dropped dramatically thanks to a series of strict measures imposed by Gibralter. So what exactly were these methods?

Gibralter introduced a campus police patrol in student neighborhoods and launched a number of “dry” programs like crafts, magicians, and sober karaoke. He paid to train local bar employees and student group leaders on how to deal with drunken behavior, and new freshmen must now pass an online alcohol education course, with in-person counseling for those who seem at risk. Frostburg’s attitude reflects a growing national consensus, but it isn’t just the colleges cracking down on binging – students are too.

The rise of sober partying in the past couple of years highlights a new thirst for clean, conscious clubbing, and though this movement began in New York City, it quickly spread through much of the U.S. and is now a hugely popular global movement. Events like the No Lights, No Lycra sober dance party and the sober rave Morning Gloryville reflect a shifting attitude among many young people that alcohol is not a requirement to let your hair down and have fun.

The popularity of sober partying has spread onto many campuses, and alcohol-free dance parties and raves are a welcome addition for sober students who don’t want to compromise on fun. Be that as it may, it would be foolish to pretend that abstaining from alcohol at college is easy. Whether students are sober for health reasons, addiction issues, or just personal preference, alcohol still permeates much of student social life and the pressure to drink can be immense. So what’s the reality of being a sober student?

“I grossly underestimated the power of peer pressure. I think many young people tend to think that it won’t affect them,” physics student Tom, who battled alcohol addiction the year before he enrolled at college, told Sober College. “You always think you’ll be able to say no to things but in reality it is much harder. Just being in the presence of people who are drinking normalizes it. You start to rationalize; you start thinking that maybe just one drink isn’t a big deal; you think things will be different this time.” He soon relapsed, but was able to recover by being up front about his illness, and seeking help.

More and more colleges across the country are rapidly establishing alcohol-free student groups and programs, and sober scholars should take advantage of these; the community these groups provide can work as a support system, so when other students are binge-drinking and partying, sober students will have a safe space to go.

Having strategies for avoiding peer pressure and dealing with the temptation to drink are also important, as Tom learned following his relapse: “For my second time around, I had tactics in place. When we were at parties, for example, I’d usually always have a glass or bottle of water in my hand. In that environment, most people assumed it was vodka or gin so didn’t try to get me to drink. Know your own strength and resolve. I didn’t, and that was my mistake.”

Although it’s impossible to stop students from drinking too much, the shift in attitude of both schools and students toward binge drinking is palpable. The rise of the sober party movement is helping sobriety separate from the stigma attached to it, a crucial aspect if young people are going to embrace alcohol-free events. If schools maintain their fight against binge drinking through a blend of education and enforcement, the stats should continue to fall in the right direction.

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