Binge drinking: the quiet killer of college students

Vincent Johnson

Catherine Bath, the executive director of Security On Campus, Inc., spoke at a journalism class last Thursday about the dangers of binge drinking.

“Anyone who says there isn’t a party when there is no alcohol is an alcoholic,” said Catherine Bath, executive director of Security On Campus, Inc.

In particular, Bath talked about her 20-year-old son, who died from heavy alcohol consumption, known as binge drinking.

“What makes me tick is that in seven years since my son died, I think about why he made that choice,” Bath said. “Why are almost half of college students in the country making the choice to drink that way?”

Bath spoke emotionally and intently about the problem confronting many Villanova students.

Coincidentally, she gave the talk during Alcohol Awareness Week on campus and at the start of Homecoming, a weekend of traditionally heavy-drinking.

“It’s hard to stay sober if you are at a party,” said Greta Holmgren, a junior nursing major. “So some drink only to get buzzed, some to get drunk, but there are others who drink to black out. I think this is a major problem.”

Only having a drink or two is okay; the problem begins when an individual hits drink number four, Bath said.

Five or more drinks in a row for a male, and four or more for a female is considered binge drinking, according to the National Institutes of Health.

This style of heavy, binge drinking is what caused Bath’s son Raheem, a junior at Duke University, to die in 1999 from aspiration pneumonia.

“People don’t know the many ways that they can die from alcohol,” Bath said. “They say to themselves: it won’t happen to me. My son didn’t want to die, but there are a lot of accidents.”

Bath joined Security on Campus, a national group based in King of Prussia, after her son’s death seven years ago.

Sixty-one percent of college students drink, and 31 percent meet the criteria for alcohol abuse, according to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Ignorance about the dangers of drinking can lead to tragedy, according to Bath. This ignorance often begins with parents, who don’t know what takes place on their child’s campus. Some are completely unaware, while others are confident their children will act responsibly. The decisions that students make are often reflective of their childhood, according to Bath, who advocates teaching children about the dangers of drinking as early as age four.

“Writing on a child’s heart is like writing on stone,” Bath said. “When you wait until 16 or 17, it is like writing on water. Once they get sucked into being brainwashed by society, it will be too late.”

People who wait until their 20s to begin drinking are less likely to become addicts, according to Bath.

But teenage drinking is a temptation that many find hard to resist.

“Drinking is such a social phenomenon,” Jon Wells, a junior sociology major, said. “It is such a big part of the culture, so it is easy for people to get involved.”

It takes an evolved person to rise above the temptations of drugs and alcohol, according to Bath. But Wells, a non-drinker, doesn’t view himself as being any better than anyone else.

“I am able to blend,” he said. “I don’t drink, but I still have a good time. I don’t think I’m stronger, I just have a different way of living.”

Some students feel that Villanova’s campus is relatively calm in terms of its drinking atmosphere.

“Villanova is laid back and chill,” Holmgren said. “You don’t hear about any big parties because of the strictness of the University. It is mostly beer pong and just hanging out. I personally like it, because I don’t consider big parties to be much fun.”

Villanova was the first university to use AlcoholEdu for students, and the University has also expressed interest in having an effective way to educate parents about drinking, according to Bath.

She mentioned the problem of parents supplying students with alcohol to drink in their apartments or residence hall rooms. Villanova RAs are instructed to monitor such activity.

In addition to RAs, Public Safety plays an important role in enforcing the alcohol policy. Officers patrol campus on foot, bike and car. They strictly monitor residence halls to ensure that underage students are not bringing in alcohol. While Villanova works hard to control drinking on campus, many students still binge.

When asked to discuss their habits, students were hesitant, often refusing to give interviews, and when they did, they avoided explicit conversation about their personal habits. Arthur Lucien, a junior economics major, suggested that heavy drinkers aren’t really having fun.

“When you drink hard or black out, you assume you’ve had fun,” Lucien said. “But how do you really know? It doesn’t add up that not remembering what you did is equated with having fun.”

However, some students do realize they will have to control themselves once they begin working.

“Drinking can help social situations in the working environment, but it can hinder someone’s job if they get completely wasted around co-workers,” said Andrea Appin, a sophomore communication major.

Experts say that people should find a healthy balance between work and play, but Bath suggests that people’s lives would be better if they left alcohol alone altogether.

“The world would be a better place if people weren’t using alcohol and drugs,” she said.