Ailts: The wasted time of binge drinking

We’ve been told the dangers of binge drinking, but there may be consequences we’re still unaware of.

by Ellen Ailts

Defining binge drinking as something that’s truly impossible to avoid in college is hardly an exaggeration. With every weekend night and football game, the liquor flows freely and endlessly — a force unto itself that continues to manifest, as if it is an inescapable curse placed on college campuses for young people to learn lessons about their body’s limits in the most punishing way possible. 

I only frame it this way because it’s rare to see a college student drinking in moderation, especially in a social setting. It’s all or nothing with us youngsters. There’s a certain feeling of invincibility that aggravates our Freudian death drive, launching us into a place of reckless abandon, abetting a desire for freedom that can only be achieved through our limited means by drinking ourselves into another realm. There aren’t thoughts of the future going through the head of someone downing three rail shots in rapid succession — drinking, of course, is about escape.

The fact that there is only the present for the binge drinker is the appeal of the act; the future is too terrifying, too uncertain and uncontrollable. 

Of course, binge drinking does have consequences, both short- and long-term. There are the familiar realities of wicked hangovers, disrupted sleep schedules, missing class, general poor decision-making — but depending on how frequently you engage in the behavior, there are a multitude of other, more serious consequences, like the negative effects on our developing brains, inflammation of internal organs and exacerbating existing mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Besides these, and perhaps most worrisome for college students, there was recently a study by Tel Aviv University and Cornell University published in the Journal of Applied Psychology that suggests binge drinking six times a month makes college students 10 percent less likely to land a job after graduating.

There is a certain level of pressure and expectation that come with binge drinking in college, mostly through our peers and media depictions of college life. Not everyone is equally into it, of course, but young people will still drink dangerous amounts of alcohol in certain settings — trying to keep up, not be left behind, perhaps not even realizing they’re binging. But it seems that for many binge drinkers, this behavior has evolved into intrinsic desire, learned over time to be an acceptable form of escaping the controlled self, the self that is laden with expectations from friends, family, mentors, teachers, coaches and bosses. 

In comparison to illegal drug use, it almost seems a responsible alternative, and therefore becomes socially acceptable. But becoming an adult, ideally, should mean valuing ourselves and our futures enough to dial back harmful behaviors, especially considering that excessive drinking has been shown to hurt graduates’ chances of meaningful employment. Not only should we take care of ourselves, but also the people around us — we’ve all heard stories, if not witnessed firsthand, how quickly drinking can turn dangerous and sometimes tragically lethal. 

Suggesting that college students stop drinking entirely is naive, but the thought that excessive and frequent drinking will potentially disadvantage you and create long-term bad habits is an important one to have in the back of your mind. Don’t sell yourself short — consider what you value, what you’re looking to get out of college, if the money you’re spending to be here is being somewhat squandered due to excessive indulgence in unhealthy habits. Otherwise, you might look back and find that too much of your time in college was wasted.