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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Alcohol Culture in College Life

Editor’s Note: This article discusses alcohol abuse and overdose, and may be triggering to some audiences. 

Anton Gridnev was just beginning his freshman year of college when he died in the Sigma Nu fraternity house on Aug. 21, 2016. The cause of death was an accidental overdose when celebrating his 19th birthday, and Gridnev was described by many as someone who put a smile on everyone’s face just by talking to them. Sigma Nu’s national organization suspended the Texas A&M University chapter and Gridnev’s father filed a wrongful death lawsuit against 10 former members of the fraternity, as well as against Sigma Nu Fraternity Inc., according to The Battalion

Another fraternity-related death at A&M took place in Dec. 2016 when Matthew Hayes, a former member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose. The fraternity was suspended from 2016 to 2019 for rule violations. 

When students go off to college, they get their first glimpse of life away from home and take on new stresses, responsibilities and freedoms. This comes with the freedom to drink alcohol. 

Alcohol has always been a part of college culture, but since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been reported that around 25% of young adults started or increased substance abuse to cope with the stresses of the pandemic, according to the National Library of Medicine. Alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the U..S, according to researchers. 

At A&M, even some traditions that center on alcohol have alternatives, including Ring Dunks and tailgating. Since the late 1980s or early 1990s, Ring Dunks have been an unofficial A&M student tradition. Once a student gets their ring, they sink it into the bottom of a pitcher of beer and attempt to drink the entire pitcher as quickly as they can to get to their ring at the bottom. Some students have participated in the tradition in ways that do not involve alcohol. 

Emma Wright, program specialist at the United Way of the Brazos Valley, and Class of 2022, said she did her Ring Dunk with a friend who doesn’t drink alcohol. They dunked using nonalcoholic punch instead of the “traditional” pitcher of beer.

“I feel like I kept with the spirit of the tradition, and it is about celebrating your Aggie Ring,” Wright said. “Tradition is about the spirit, not the surface-level embellishments. The tradition is about getting that ring.” 

A sample of 33,360 college students found that 39.3% of the students met the criteria for binge drinking, according to Taylor and Francis Online. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that 52.5% of full-time college students drank alcohol in the past month, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

The legal consequences of alcohol-related misconduct last long after the hangover. If arrested for a charge of driving under the influence, the fine can cost up to $2,000 for the first offense, according to Neal Davis Law Firm. If arrested for a minor in possession charge, the fine can cost up to $500 for the first offense. 

Lauren Westhoff, bar manager at The Spot on Northgate, said the majority of arrests she sees are for underage drinking. There are a lot of people who try to use fake IDs to get into the bar, said Westhoff. 

“I would say that on an average Saturday night, probably 50[%] of people that try to come in [are underage],” Westhoff said. 

One way that colleges in the U.S. combat these concerns is through educational programs. At A&M, the Office of Student Life provides alcohol education workshops and recovery programming and hosts health promotion events. 

The goal of these workshops and initiatives is to define for students what binge drinking is and to provide resources for students to stay safe, Jon Hill, health promotion specialist at the Office of Student Life, said. 

“The university is committed to providing programming and education around drug and alcohol misuse and abuse, as well as establish[ing] policies that address unlawful possession, use, distribution of alcohol and illicit drugs,” Hill said. “This is a part of federal legislation called the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act of 1989.” 

The Office of Student Life focuses on prevention, intervention and recovery, Sarah Beth Heiar, health promotion coordinator for the Office of Student Life, said. The prevention aspect entails alcohol education, while intervention works with students who have been referred to the Office of Student Life. Recovery resources are voluntary and for students who decide they do not want to drink anymore or are curious about the recovery process, Heiar added.

The most important part of collegiate recovery is building a community with other students with a similar mindset, Heiar said. 

“College can lend itself to being a time where people are in a new place, they’re looking to connect with others and are trying to feel like they belong,” Heiar said. “And sometimes alcohol can make it seem like that is easier to do and it can cycle out of control.” 

An estimated 1,519 college students die from alcohol-related accidents annually while 95,000 die from alcohol-related events in total, according to the NIAAA. One in five college women experience sexual assault during their time in college and a majority of them involve alcohol use or other substances in many different contexts, according to the NIAAA. 

The Office of Student Life helps build community by hosting annual Aggie Sober Tailgates. In recent years, it has been held as a watch party for the A&M football game versus Arkansas at Star Cinema Grill, and students are encouraged to join and have the opportunity to socialize and meet other students who also do not drink, Heiar said. 

“Aggie Sober Tailgates provide a fun social place for students to get to do something fun like that with no alcohol around,” Heiar said. 

Currently, there are no student organizations specifically for students in recovery or that explicitly promote sobriety. However, there are organizations that make it a priority to educate students about the importance of health and practicing safe drinking habits, Heiar said. 

“A lot of organizations make it a practice to bring me or one of my colleagues once a year to give education to their group to prevent things from happening,” Heiar said. 

It’s common for students to feel pressured to drink at events and locations like ring dunks and Northgate in order to make friends and find a group, but one of the best things A&M does is normalize the fact that not everybody likes drinking, Heiar said. If all of the students who do not drink felt empowered in that choice it would help others feel the same way, added Heiar.

“Our doors are open,” Heiar said. “We meet one-on-one with students, and if anyone [feels] like they [are] struggling or just curious about their alcohol use and want to talk to someone, I would love for people to feel like they could reach out and do that.”
Signi Johnson is a journalism senior and contributed this piece from the course Journalism 203: Media Writing I to The Battalion.

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