Irresponsible alcohol use leads to danger and risks, data show

By MARISA HIVNER
School of Communication
University of Miami

This past summer, sophomore Kelly McConnell was tragically struck by a 20-year-old drunk driver. McConnell, 19, was riding home from a movie with his father and two brothers when Demetrius Jordan crashed into his car at 80 mph.

All four men were pronounced dead at the scene. These victims will account for only four of the approximately 11,000 people who will lose their lives to drunk driving this year.

Alcohol has a major presence on the college campus; it drives attendance to parties, and often provides entertainment for the night. While it may be seen as a method of facilitating a good time, alcohol can be a serious problem, especially in the demographic of college students.

It leads to seriously dangerous and risky behaviors, such as drunk driving, and other health conditions if not used responsibly. At the University of Miami, safety is a main priority of administrators. As a measure for promoting responsibility among students, a handful of programs have been instituted, like the Ibis Ride, which shuttles students to and from Coconut Grove so that they may enjoy the nightlife responsibly.

The campus group Pier 21, strives to promote a healthy lifestyle as well as to educate and increase awareness of substance use/abuse issues through sponsoring events and its alcohol awareness week.

“I think people are going to drink regardless of what is being promoted on campus,” said senior Deborah Perez about the university’s awareness programs, “but I do think that it might help to control the extent of drinking. I think the school is at least acknowledging that there is an issue.”

Perez, 21, supports the school’s efforts keep students safe in social situations.

“It [the Ibis Ride] encourages students to go to the Grove and go out drinking, but to practice responsibility,” she said.

Despite these efforts by faculty, staff and students, reckless behavior continues to take place. The most notable being driving under the influence, as was highlighted in February when Student Government presidential candidate Josh Llano was arrested for driving under the influence and possession of fake identification.

In a study recently released by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which compares alcohol involvement for drivers in fatal crashes in 1998 and 2008, it was found that drivers ages 16 to 24 comprised 23.6 percent of victims and offenders in 1998, and 22.0 percent in 2008.

While it is a decrease of 1.6 percent, it is a less than significant decline. The study also found that the majority of drivers are male, at 72.0 percent in 1998 and 73.5 percent in 2008. This comes as no surprise to senior Edmund Mandell, 22, who firmly asserts that men just naturally drink more than women.

“Well, body fat for starters, but guys encourage more drinking with guys, so logically, they would drink more than girls,” he said.

Another study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 1995, 38.9 percent of college students aged 18-24 had ridden in a car with someone driving who had been drinking at least one time that year.

Furthermore, the study found that 27.8 percent of college students in the same age bracket drove a vehicle after drinking at least once that year. In addition, it was noted that the majority of the students partaking in these risky behaviors were white, with Hispanics following that lead.

“I stay away from drunk driving,” said Mandell. “I know that it’s done, I’ve seen it done, but it’s just a poor decision to begin with. I don’t think anyone walks out of a bar completely slushed and says, ’Oh, I’m driving,’ but I don’t think that many drunk drivers really realize they’re at that point because they feel fairly invincible.”

According to Mandell, this is how drunk drivers end up behind the wheel. Mandell also noted his observations about who is drinking most.

“More white and affluent people drink more because they have more money to drink, cause, let’s face it,” he said, “drinks in Miami aren’t cheap. I mean, a Jack and Coke runs about $12.”

In the college setting, drinking is often a social activity that many may pick up as a way of taking the edge off, as some people just need a bit of liquid courage to overcome the social anxiety they may be feeling in an unfamiliar environment. Perez believes that alcohol consumption is encouraged in the collegiate community, as most people hold the misconception that it is necessary to have fun.

“It’s a social thing to do for students, “ she said. “Especially new college students who are exposed for the first time to alcohol in general, and I do think it is a bit of peer pressure in certain situations.”

In the 2001 to 2002 National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, researches found that current drinkers suffer from anxiety at a rate of 21.3 per 1,000 people, whereas lifetime abstainers suffer from anxiety at a rate of 13.5 per 1,000 people.

In fact, the survey concludes that overall, current drinkers suffer from many DSM psychiatric disorders at higher rates than those who abstain from alcohol. For example, current drinkers suffer from major depression a rate of 75.6, while abstainers suffer at a rate of 43.9.

Another major difference lies in nicotine dependence, where current drinkers suffer at a rate of 154. 8 and abstainers at a rate of 31.5; these differences are significant. While alcohol may offer a temporary high or release from whatever social ailment one may be experiencing, excessive use can be dangerous.

A 2005 report for the CDC that gathered information on alcohol-attributed deaths from 2001 to 2005 found that an estimate of 57,429 total reported deaths were credited to alcohol. Of these deaths, 13,992 were reported to be victims within the age group of 20 to 34; that’s 24.4 percent. The leading causes of alcohol-related death for this age group are motor-vehicle traffic crashes at 39.6 percent, homicide with 26.4 percent, and suicide at 12.5 percent.

Other causes of death include drowning, poisoning, and health conditions such as liver disease. Alcohol use on the college level is a complex issue, as it is a social norm that can often times be glorified or hold expectation. Regardless, alcohol is a substance that requires responsible use, though it frequently steers people in the opposite direction.

“Alcohol is the worst drug,” said Dr. Jan Sokol-Katz, director of Undergraduate Studies in Criminology. “But the reality is everyone is going to drink.”

Sokol-Katz, who teaches a course about drug abuse, believes that alcohol policies need to be rethought, specifically to focus on education and lessen punishment.

“I don’t believe in prohibition, I believe in harm reduction, through education. We need to teach kids how to drink more safely, and how to recognize the dangers,” she said.

Sokol-Katz also asserted that it is important to institute preventative measures to lessen harm, like educating females about some of the dangers of drinking, like date rape, for example.

“It will acknowledge that people are using, but allow them to make safe decisions in regards to [drinking],” she said. “More often than not, [I drink] to have a splendid time” said Mandell. “Or do something stupid. You’re more open to things you wouldn’t do, sensibly, when you’re drinking.”

It is important to practice conscientiousness when consuming alcohol, as the threats and dangers are very real. Perez, who feels very strongly about alcohol and responsibility, says that drinking responsibly is a must. She also explained that it is important to maintain control of the situation, and act in accordance to what has been taught about alcohol safety.

But most importantly, she wants everyone to know that, “just because something didn’t happen to you that night, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to someone else.”

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