Drinking and partying are significant parts of our culture here at UT. You’ll never find Sixth Street quiet on a Thursday night, and you’re sure to hear the sounds of music and parties throughout West Campus on any given weekend. And while it’s all part of the fun experience of a big state school, students are quick to ignore the consequences of consistent binge drinking. The proverb “you’re not an alcoholic until you graduate” perpetuates this ignorance, but it’s something that needs to be addressed.
Whether it’s freshmen in their dorms or upperclassmen attending Greek events off campus, binge drinking, defined as the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol in a short period of time, is a nationwide epidemic. Studies show that the number of college students who binge drink has remained around the 40 percent mark for last two decades, and shows no signs of lowering.
And the consequences are very tangible. A recent study showed that immediate effects of binge drinking included abnormally high heart rates, something normally found in people who have experienced heart attacks or congestive heart failure. While these effects were not permanent, it is important to note that repetition of this behavior could eventually result in permanent arrhythmia, and possibly other complications such as other cardiovascular diseases, unintentional injuries and neurological damage.
What’s more is that alcohol doesn’t just affect physical health, it also impacts relationships and interactions between students. A recent study about the prevalence of sexual assault at UT showed that a significant amount of those involved — victim or perpetrator — were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of cyber and psychological abuse and physical violence. Moreover, 84 percent of perpetrators and 69 percent of victims were under the influence at the time of sexual assault incidents.
This is not to say that alcohol is the sole reason behind this, and that stopping students from binge drinking is the solution. But that being said, the correlation between assault and alcohol and drug use must be acknowledged and addressed in order for change to take place. It is part of the bigger picture of the binge drinking culture at UT as is the prevalence of assault, which must be addressed by not just the university but also students themselves.
While programs like AlcoholEdu and Haven — courses about the risks of drug and alcohol use and sexual assault that incoming students are required to take — aim to do this, it seems that these programs have little impact. A study looking at the effectiveness of such programs showed that initially, a majority of students reduce their drinking after taking these awareness courses, but a year later a majority of these students went back to their previous drinking habits — or worse.
The fact that these awareness programs have a minimal impact is important to realize and discuss. Students are only required to complete these courses once at the beginning of their time at UT, and most students forget about them immediately after. The university must address this problem and attempt to improve alcohol awareness by implementing more expansive programs in the curriculum, and requiring students to complete them more often throughout the year, rather than just once at the beginning of their freshman year. Students should also take initiative on their own part to address the risks of alcohol and drug use on campus. As much as the university tries to ensure that students are educated and taking care of themselves, in the end students are the ones affected by the consequences of binge drinking and should be empowered to ensure their own well-being and that of their fellow students.
Agha is a public relations junior from Karachi, Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @alinaagha96.