Five O'clock Somewhere: War declared on college drinking

Now that the school year is well underway and classes at college are in full swing, we can all begin our annual nationwide freakout over binge-drinking. Students are drinking! Well, what a shock that is. I mean, American children get told from the get-go that alcohol is forbidden. They get pumped full of Sunny D their whole lives. Then they're sent off to a place where they're relatively unsupervised and all stressed out about grades and papers, and we're supposed to be astounded that they turn to drinking for relief and recreation.

And what is "binge-drinking," anyway? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines "binge-drinking" as "a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08." Which is dance-around-the-point academese for, "drinking until you are officially drunk." Notice it doesn't mean "drinking until you pass out" or "drinking until your roommates draw on your face with a Sharpie." According to the NIAAA, anybody who drinks until they're legally drunk is engaging in this "pattern" of behavior. By our estimation, there are millions of hardworking Americans — from the 120-pound housewife enjoying three glasses of wine to the 240-pound plumber downing a six-pack during the late show — who are doing exactly that. But you only seem to get flagged as a "binge-drinker" in scare headlines when you're away at college.

We can probably attribute that to the puritanical streak that Americans have about drinking and children. Children are never, ever, supposed to have a drink. But if that's the case, how are parents supposed to teach children how to use alcohol responsibly?

We've felt that, instead of a lot of puritanical fervor about underage drinking, wouldn't it be better if we all just relaxed? Lowered the drinking age? Made alcohol a part of family meals and celebrations and included our youngsters? We've pointed to continental European parents, who've watered down wine and given it to their children for years.

That's why we took notice of a blog over at The Washington Post by Rick Noack noting that some are declaring war on college drinking. A bill under consideration in France would make inciting binge drinking punishable with jail time or hefty fines, and would target those organizing parties for students. The bill was proposed because hospitals have seen a rise in admissions of "seriously drunk young people."

To what is this rise in drinking attributed? One response in the blog was surprising: It quoted a French waiter who blamed the English. "The French kids are the worst because they want to be Anglo-Saxons. They know it's what the English do, and they think it's cool to be boisterous." (See how this all comes back to Anglo-Saxon puritanism?)

But those concerned about college students boozing it up may not like the silver bullet that's guaranteed to keep irresponsible partying in check: marijuana. Using data from the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers have found that in states that had legalized medical use, there was an increase in marijuana smoking among adults in their 20s, accompanied by a reduction in alcohol use by college-age youth.

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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