In less than a week, my daughter will be off to college. Sitting on a beach chair a few weeks ago, her eyes glanced at her computer screen under the glare of the sun and the ocean only steps away. I assumed she was watching some incredibly gripping movie from which she couldn’t tear herself away. But when I inquired, she rolled her eyes and explained that she was watching an alcohol awareness video—a mandatory assignment for her university.
Despite the efforts made by educational institutions, new psychological research suggests that the pitfalls from all those jello shots and games of beer pong aren’t bad enough to make students stop drinking.
On the USA Today website, an article, “College Drinking is Liberating, and a Good Excuse,” reports on why the efforts to raise awareness are not working.
“We thought if we could demonstrate to students that their performance deteriorated under alcohol, they would be convinced that their alcohol consumption has put them at risk,” says psychologis E. Scott Geller, director of the Center for Applied Behavior Systems at Virginia Tech. But “knowing that one is impaired, physically and even emotionally, did not seem to reduce alcohol consumption.”
Geller, who’s been studying alcohol awareness since the mid-1980s, states clearly that the alcohol education hasn’t worked. “We have shown in several studies that their intentions influence their behavior. If they intend to get drunk, it’s difficult to stop that.”
Going for the effects is what it’s all about. One student, Brandie Pugh, a senior at Ohio University, says in the article: “I think everybody’s aim is to get drunk on the weekend. It’s not about the taste of the alcohol. It’s about the effects of it. It’s about the lowered inhibitions.”
In another study, researcher Laina Bay-Cheng, an associate professor of social work at the University at Buffalo-State University of New York, found that when teenagers drink, they think they can use their intoxicated state as an excuse for their actions. Students in her focus groups–there were 97 teens ranging in age from 14 to 17–described alcohol as emboldening and said it offers “liquid courage,” a phrase other researchers also have cited. Colleges, she says, need to “acknowledge and reckon with” alcohol’s appeal.
According to Bay Cheng, another result of drinking is that it can be an excuse for young women to “act out being sexually assertive, carefree, liberated,” she explains. ”If you have sex, you’re a slut, and if you don’t, you’re a prude — but drinking allows you to do both. You can go out, get drunk, have sex and the next day say, ‘I’m still a good girl.’”
In the USA Today article, Pugh goes on to say that she has seen this scenario play out on her campus repeatedly: “‘I was drunk so I hooked up with that guy.’ ‘I was drunk so I missed my class this morning.’ ‘I was drunk so I got in a fight.’ If it’s something they’re not proud of, it gives them an excuse.”
After next Wednesday, I’ll hope from afar that my daughter doesn’t ever feel that she needs to use alcohol as an excuse for anything.