It’s 10 o’clock on a Friday night. The room is dark and the music, loud. You feel excited and nervous at the same time. There could be shots, drinking games – whatever it takes to get as high as you can as fast as you can. You’re aware of your surroundings, yet there’s a sense of confusion – people around you are moving their bodies, screaming and laughing, enjoying the moment and nothing more.
A typical night for a university student. Some remember them, some don’t. Some end up hanging off their toilets, and some end up in an unfamiliar bed. Either way, most university students can say the same thing: they’ve been there. A night after drinking could lead anywhere.
Invariably, when the media, parents and university administrators discuss student drinking, they put it in a negative light: What’s wrong with this generation? But the question of “what is it about drinking, particularly binge drinking, that attracts young adults?” is rarely asked.
Thomas Vander Ven, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio University, studied what attracts students to binge drinking and wrote Getting Wasted. In an interview in Salon.com, Vander Ven says not only does drinking help students deal with social anxieties, but it also helps them grow friendships and even romantic relationships.
Morgan Fraser, a first-year student at STU, says she likes drinking because it helps her relax and let loose with her friends.
“You’re not completely the same person; I mean you’re the person you want to be. It’s an easy way out to embarrass yourself.”
The bottom line seems to be that binge drinking, that is drinking an excessive amount of liquor at one time, appeals to university students because it’s an easy way to have fun.
“I always drink at least a pint before I go out. When we are getting ready, I just chug to make sure I’m drunk,” said Katlin Glenen, a second-year student.
“I mean we’re in university. It’s fun to go out. What else are we going to do?”
Adds Fraser: “It’s cheaper to get drunk before you go out and it’s more fun to drink with everyone around. I mean, it’s not like I need it, I just want to.”
Vander Ven says binge drinking not only allows a person to let go and have fun, but it also helps shyer people open up.
“They’re more likely to say and do things that they normally wouldn’t do,” said Vander Ven of the students in his study. “Show affection to their peers, get angry at them, get more embolden to sing and dance and take risks and act crazy and there is a ton of laughing that goes on.”
“You let your guard down more. It’s not an excuse, like if you kiss someone while you’re drunk you can blame it on liquor. Clearly you wanted to kiss them, you just didn’t when you were sober because you were too scared.”
When drunk, you are more likely to talk to someone you never would, and do things you never would. That boost gives you extra confidence you needed to be able to talk to the same person sober, because after having spent a night drinking together, a bond is formed.
However, just as quickly as it comes, the urge to binge drink leaves, says Vander Ven.
“Drinking in college is just a very different enterprise than once you graduate.”
Glenen and Fraser both agree that this phase of binge drinking won’t last.
“We can’t do it when we are 25 and have a life. This is the time,” said Fraser.