Saturday, October 15, 2016

A very alarming trend, drinking to blackout

Speaking of higher ed, this is a very alarming article about a very alarming trend, drinking to blackout. A must read (especially if you have/care for kids at or near college age):

I hadn't known it at the time, but this was my first introduction to the aspirational "blackout." That is, intentionally drinking with the goal of submersing yourself in so much alcohol that you can't remember what happened and the only vestiges that remain from the night before are the videos on your friends' phones.

I attended that college for one year before transferring to the University of North Carolina. During that time I never got "blackout," but I was a frequent observer of it. I'm not naïve; I know that drinking is part of the college experience, you hang out with some friends, you party too hard and sometimes you pass out. But what I saw was something different.

 Of course, many college students drink, including the scholarship winners, the three-sport athletes and the club presidents. They're free from their parents, and they feel safe because everything is in walking distance. Drinking on campus is by far the most convenient way to have fun. Plus it's cheap and accessible. But there's something else in the mix, something that pushes them from casual drinking to binge drinking to blackout.

I think it's the stress. It permeates everything we do as college students. Many small, elite colleges are insanely competitive to get into in the first place and they remain competitive as students try to outdo one another with grades, scholarships, extracurricular activities and internships. Having been one of those hypercompetitive students, I can tell you that it never feels like enough. The person sitting next to you in class is always doing more and doing it better. I became obsessed with stacking my resume, even more so than I was in high school. I saw it as a reflection of whether I would succeed in life. And I'm not alone. The obsession seems largely driven by fear — fear of a crumbling job market, of not meeting parents' expectations, of crippling loan debt.

 So the mentality behind the decision to black out boils down to the simple question of why not? No one will stop you. You're in a familiar environment. You assume that if you black out, someone will make sure you get back home. And most of the time you do get home, which makes it seem a lot lower risk than it really is and allows for it to be repeated every weekend.

The way we as students treat the blacking out of our peers is also partly responsible for its ubiquity. We actually think it's funny. We joke the next day about how ridiculous our friends looked passed out on the bathroom floor or Snapchatting while dancing and making out with some random guy, thus validating their actions and encouraging them to do it again. Blacking out has become so normal that even if you don't personally do it, you understand why others do. It's a mutually recognized method of stress relief. To treat it as anything else would be judgmental.

There is also a tacit understanding that blacking out works as a kind of "get out of jail free card." A person can say or do any number of hurtful or embarrassing things and be granted immunity with the simple excuse that they were "blackout" that night. People accept this with no question. Blacking out therefore becomes a way to avoid responsibility. Of course, this mentality backfires with issues such as sexual assault when people are held accountable for their actions.

Despite the risks — health and otherwise — blackout is not going away. Not as long as we continue to be competitive overachievers who treat the trend as a joke and as our only means to relieve stress. At the end of the day, for a lot of students, forgetting will always be the best option.

Drinking to Blackout

Thomas Tilson, Ph.D.
Education Consultant
Skype:  ttilson

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