Excessive drinking is the real ‘epidemic’

Date Published – September 27, 1997

Recently, an outbreak of lice swept through the campus. The lice epidemic” sent the campus into a frenzy, as no doubt seen by the way the Health Center resembled a class reunion. Of course, last week also marked the height of another “epidemic,” one which may not have inspired the fear of lice but one that was much, much more dangerous. That “epidemic” was excessive drinking. Homecoming Weekend, a.k.a. “Get as Wasted as You Can” Weekend, was the height of this.

In recent months, Williams students have undoubtedly seen or heard something about this epidemic. 29 students taken to the Health Center. Two students passed out. Ten students arrested in relation to excessive drinking. A change in the party policy, all in the midst of news that two college students at other campuses died from excessive drinking this semester.

Unfortunately, when we students are confronted by such realities, we most often respond by complaining about the Williamstown police or about how the school’s isolation forces us to drink. And while such facts may be true, too often we students let those complaints obscure who’s really at fault for the current situation: students who don’t know their limits when it comes to drinking.

While indeed we may be college students stuck in the “middle of nowhere” and while indeed we may have a police department that seems intent on breaking up every one of our social functions, we must not forget that it is primarily our lack of judgment and discipline, not the police or the location, that is to blame for our current problems with drinking.

Why are students drinking so excessively? It seems that many students, especially freshmen, mistakenly believe that drinking will make them “cool.” Desperate to find friends in a new place, many freshmen resort to drinking as a way to assert their mark on this new and unfamiliar territory. For many, college may also be a time of newfound freedom and no doubt students are going to use that freedom to do things they might not otherwise have done before, such as drinking.

This creates a dangerous combination of inexperienced students drinking for the first time.With nobody else to monitor their drinking, it is not surprising why so many of these students drink far above their limit.

Unfortunately, what people often don’t realize is that while college gives students the freedom to drink, it also gives them the freedom not to drink. Too often, students are so caught up trying to assert their freedom or be cool that they forget about the ill effects of alcohol on their bodies. Too often, students also forget that being excessively drunk isn’t cool by anyone’s standards. As almost anyone can attest, being taken to the Health Center, passing out on the Science Quad, getting arrested by the WPD, or throwing up in Garfield is surely not a mark of coolness.

We also tend to forget that one of Williams’ hallmarks is its openness. Williams predicates itself on a non-exclusionary policy in which people of all different attitudes are welcomed. And while not every Williams student may espouse this policy, it is not uncommon to find drinkers who honestly don’t care whether another person drinks or not. Peer pressure when it comes to drinking isn’t as bad as some people mistakenly believe.

Now I’m not advocating a prohibitionist or zero-alcohol policy. College students are going to drink no matter what.Ironically, teenagers in European countries, where drinking is legalized and much more indulged, have much fewer problems with excessive drinking than their American counterparts. However, what I am advocating is better responsibility towards our drinking habits. There are some people who can drink without experiencing little more than a “buzz” but there are others for whom one drink may be one too many.Those are the people that should refrain from drinking and, at the very least, rethink their drinking habits. And while this may be unfair to those with lower tolerances for alcohol and while it may disproptionately target females, that unfortunately is life and there is nothing anyone can do about it. In light of recent events, one cannot suggest otherwise.

It is time for us to start getting in a frenzy over the real epidemic. While lice may be irritating to our hair, it surely does not pose the danger that excessive drinking does. After all, we don’t want to have a class reunion at the Health Center this Saturday night.

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