Opinion: The drinking culture in college towns

Alexandra Tinline headshot

Alexandra Tinline

“Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Everybody!”

These words, shouted by a true poet of our generation, Lil Jon, can be heard in almost any college bar around the country. Enticing young lushes to spend more of their student loan money on liquor instead of books.

I am going to honest with you. I am one of those dumb drunks singing along in the bar, dancing like a soccer mom on her first time out in years without the kids.  

A few weekends ago, after falling victim to Lil Jon and his spellbinding words, I stumbled back into my apartment after a night out with friends.  I danced through my kitchen to grab a bag of pretzels and ice water to put on my nightstand as a nice gesture for hungover Alex in the morning. Stuffing a handful of pretzels into my mouth, I kicked off my heels and collapsed in my bed.

I woke up the next day with makeup melting off my face, a massive headache and a single pretzel in my mouth that I continued to eat. The funny, or sad thing, depending on your perspective is that this wasn’t the first time it happened to me. When I told my friends the next day, they each had a story of their own misadventures to their beds.

Everyone has drunk-stories to one-up one another every morning after. But that’s what college is, right?

Let’s not lie to ourselves here. Alcohol is a huge social crutch that many college students tend to lean on. The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility reported that 81 percent of college students have tried alcohol at least once in their lifetime, and 67 percent report they have been drunk.

At what point does drinking become more than just a social activity but a problem? Is it after waking up with a pretzel still in your mouth?

Is it when you are crying in the upstairs bathroom of a house party over a boy?

Or is it after you need someone to hold your hair when you are in the bathroom stall of Water Street Tavern hugging a toilet that probably hasn’t been cleaned in weeks?

We don’t want to admit it, but many of us are one drink away from having to go to those meetings in the ill-lit church basement off Main Street saying the dreaded “Hi my name is ___ and I’m an alcoholic.”

The warning signs of alcoholism look a lot like downtown Kent on a Saturday night. Temporary blackouts. Signs of irritability and extreme mood swings. Conjuring excuses for drinking, such as a stress relief. Choosing drinking over responsibilities and obligations.

In 2014, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reported that there were almost 45,000 arrests on college campuses for drug- and alcohol-related offenses. I have a few friends who are part of this shocking statistic. I would consider them high functioning alcoholics, but I don’t think they will see it until the party ends.

The streets of Kent are flooded with students under the influence of alcohol on an average weekend night. Most of the just short of 600 arrests that have occurred the past two years on or around campus have happened after 11 p.m. But who is just a victim to the social norm and who is actually struggling with addiction?

I’d like to think that, if I had to, I could put the bottle down because. I’m not that old disheveled man at the end of bar. Instead, for now, I’ll keep telling myself that once college is done I’ll slow down. Part of me is worried that I’ll never want the party to end, though.

To find meetings near you visit the Alcoholics Anonymous website.

Alexandra Tinline is an opinion columnist. Contact her at [email protected]