Red and Black.com
University of Georgia independent student newspaper
‘Under the Influence’ Special Section
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
By Kelly Proctor
Illustration by Jenni Mayberry; The Red and Black
Three or four times a week, and definitely on the weekends, John Deuben visits his favorite downtown haunts.
He likes to sit at Classic City Saloon, talking with his best friend, the bartender, and enjoying a cold Bud Light.
Deuben said when he first came to college, he used his new freedom to drink a lot.
Today, he’s more subdued.
“I sometimes black out, but that’s never a problem,” he said. “Some nights I go overboard.”
Deuben is part of the 80 percent of University students who drink at least once a month, according to a University survey. Those figures leave University administrators demanding a change – and parents nervous.
To drive down these rates, psychologists in some states are looking at the inner wiring of college students’ brains. What makes kids go wild when they come to school? And what’s the difference between a John Deuben – someone who enjoys alcohol – and people who won’t touch the stuff?
It doesn’t take a University survey to tell Abeeda Mahboob that students drink.
People see articles in the paper that list the University as a big party school, said Mahboob, a sophomore from Atlanta. “I do think we have a legacy.”
Sociology professor Wes Perkins, from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, said media and society give college an “Animal House” reputation that colors students’ thoughts about college.
“National Lampoon’s Animal House,” a 1978 movie about a goofy, party-loving fraternity, portrays college life as booze and parties.
People also can make “attribution errors,” said Perkins, whose studies focus on alcohol and drug abuse prevention on campuses.
“If you see someone do something and you don’t know them” – like stumble drunk down their dorm room hall – “you tend to think that’s what they’re like all the time,” Perkins said.
“That might have been the only time they’ve done that.”
Friends don’t let friends…
Social groups can also make a difference. For instance, Deuben said most of his friends are drinkers – people he’d trust to take care of him if he got too drunk.
“You absolutely need your friends to take care of you,” he said.
Lauren Fields said she didn’t drink before she was 21, and most of her friends did the same.
“I was uncomfortable with it,” said Fields, president of Advocating Safe Alternatives for Peers, a University group that aims to educate students on responsible drinking.
“Most of my friends decided to make similar decisions,” she said.
Belonging to a religious group may also deter people from drinking.
“I’m Muslim and my parents wouldn’t want me to drink,” Mahboob said. “I don’t see the benefits (in drinking). It’s not for me.”
Drunk, tanked, plastered
Monday morning bus rides can be filled with riders talking about their raucous weekends.
Listen closely, and it sounds like all students do each weekend is drink.
What’s actually going on, Perkins said, is a human tendency to talk about extreme behavior.
“What’s vivid is gross, funny, angry … there are only a few boring words for ‘sober’ but hundreds of words for ‘drunk,'” he said.
Freshman Sana Hashmi said she hears these words and conversations often.
Hashmi, who doesn’t drink, said it seems like everyone else does it.
“I do hear stories and they sound like they’re talking about a badge or a medal of honor,” she said.
Whose fault is it?
It’s not like drinking is anything new.
In the 1800s, University chroniclers wrote of college students and their drinking parties.
In the 1970s, University students would get sloshed and streak naked down Lumpkin Street.
Sometime in the past two decades, though, drinking has become more of a social stigma for mainstream society, and one many people say colleges should clean up.
Kitty Harris, a researcher at Texas Tech University, said that’s not always fair to colleges.
“Lots of kids grow (alcohol dependencies) in high school, and then we ship them off to college,” said Harris, who studies addiction.
“College freshmen are in the late stages of adolescence. We give them a lot more credit for being grown up and mature than they deserve.”
Alcohol abuse usually starts in high school or before, she said.
And there are, she said, psychological differences that make some kids risk-takers.
For instance, Mahboob said she would never use a fake ID.
John Deuben, meanwhile, snuck into Athens bars frequently before he was 21 with an ID that said his last name was “Garcia.”
“I’m no Garcia,” he said.