Working Title: College Alcohol Abuse
A high rate of alcohol abuse among college students is not a new problem. There exist factions that argue for and against policy such as the national drinking age of 21. Some people believe that keeping, or even raising the drinking age may help keep alcohol out of the hands of college students and minors. Other groups argue that lower drinking ages such as those found in European nations will rid alcohol of the mystique that surrounds it, and that teaching safe alcohol consumption at younger ages will result in more responsible drinkers in the future. In my research proposal, I propose to consider the question of whether laws and policy have a noticeable effect on alcohol consumption in college or if the campus and organizational culture surrounding the students are the larger factors in alcohol abuse.
Research Question (work in progress)
Is alcohol abuse among college students a policy problem or a culture problem? In other words, is college alcohol abuse a problem that can be helped by changing alcohol laws, or can it only be done by changing the culture of alcohol consumption on college campuses? How can college alcohol consumption be transformed from its current culture of overconsumption to fit within sustainable social norms?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, contributing to over 88,000 deaths per year. On college campuses, alcohol abuse contributes to 1,825 deaths per year, 690,000 assaults, 97,000 cases of alcohol related sexual assault, and 599,000 alcohol related injuries.
An academic article written by Alexander Wagenaar and Traci Toomey goes in depth in researching the many factors related to alcohol abuse among teenagers and the effects of the minimum drinking age laws. Their research provides cited sources to studies that all suggest that the 21 year old minimum drinking age is the “most successful effort to date” in reducing drinking among teenagers. The journal also provides several counterpoints to arguments made in favor of abolishing the 21 year old minimum. One of these points is that alcohol is considered a “forbidden fruit” that teenagers are more likely to consume before the legal age. The authors’ research shows otherwise, claiming that early legal access to alcohol is associated with higher rates of consumption as an adult.
One of the leading causes of alcohol abuse/binge drinking in college atmospheres are the existence of fraternities on campus. As a former fraternity member, I plan on interviewing some of my former fraternity brothers along with members of other Rutgers fraternities on campus to get an understanding of why there is an importance placed on alcohol consumption in fraternities. I’d also like to know what steps these organizations take to both stay within the boundaries of the law and promote safe drinking habits. I would like to get input from several perspectives, including members of the E-Board as well as new members and “pledges”. I’d also like to ask how the minimum drinking age has had an effect on their ability and/or their willingness to consume alcoholic products.
Another factor that I am planning on researching is the effect that college privatization may indirectly have on college alcohol abuse. Sperber’s “Beer and Circus” shows that alcohol acts as social lubricant in the “party pathway”, which is a way through college that is directly supported by privatized colleges. As privatization creates higher costs for students, only those that can afford to “pay for the party” are able to partake in the party culture around campuses, a culture which is nearly always paired with alcohol consumption. Because alcohol is used as a social lubricant in many of these privatized schools, it actually encourages consumption out of fear of being “left out”.
"College Drinking." College Drinking. NIAA. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. <http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/college-drinking>.
Wagenaar, Alexander, and Traci Toomey. "Effects of Minimum Drinking Age Laws: Review and Analyses of the Literature from 1960 to 2000."Effects of Minimum Drinking Age Laws. 3 Sept. 2005. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. <http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/supportingresearch/journal/wagenaar.aspx>.