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Social media influence on binge drinking

Contributing Writer

Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Updated: Monday, January 7, 2013 16:01

Binge drinking

Photo by Joe Shearer/The Gateway

New Year’s Eve, while synonymous with optimistic new beginnings and resolutions, is equally known for its promotion of all things bubbly and alcoholic. For Mason Sumnicht, a 21-year-old senior and fraternity pledge at Sigma Pi at Chico State University in California, he didn’t get the chance to watch the ball drop into 2013 because he had imbibed one too many drinks this November.  He died after attempting to down 21 shots for his 21st birthday.

Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 percent or above. It has become a sport for many college students, testing their limits and risking their lives by trying to consume as much alcohol as in little time as possible.

As a consequence of Sumnicht’s death, Chico State University suspended all 26 of their social fraternities and sororities. While UNO’s own Greek system, comprised of just eight social fraternities and sororities, has not experienced such a despairing event, binge drinking remains a problem for all youth.  The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism cites that about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.

”Drinking becomes a problem when it interferes with the capacity of obtaining the things you need or want to do,” UNO Student Health Services director Marica Adler said.  “When drinking begins to interfere with normal concrete functioning, it can become an issue.”

Today, students face a new monster that may be driving them to the bottle - social media. From pictures of glitzed up college freshman getting ready to tackle the weekend trickling down newsfeeds to tweets of emptying red solo cups, both Facebook and Twitter have become new tools for students to promote their weekend shenanigans, legal or otherwise.

“I think there are so many photos of binge drinking on social media because it’s not very glamorous to post photos of people studying,” Adler said. “Drinking has a higher energy and these photos send the impression that binge drinking and partying is normal. It’s always been done and each generation thinks they invented it, but now there is this mechanism to propel it.”

Adler said she hasn’t conducted or seen enough research to determine the exact effects of social media influencing students to binge drink. Cory Trevena, assistance program coordinator of Caron Treatment Centers, agrees that there is not enough evidence to either support or refute social media’s impact on binge drinking.

While social media’s effect on binge drinking hasn’t been extensively studied, the need to fit in and be accepted has widely been recognized as an influence.

“Binge drinking in college is often associated with the social norm that drinking is a rite of passage for college students,” Trevena said. “Students may feel that it helps them to achieve a certain social status.”

Whether it is social media or the need to be accepted, binge drinking continues to be an issue no matter the influence, extending beyond the college students or Greek system. Business Insider, a news website that attracts nearly 6 million users per month, named Omaha, Neb. the most hungover city in America, ranking cities based off the Center for Disease Control’s most recent statistics on binge drinking and the number of bars per capita.

While this list of the most hungover may paint a troubling picture for Omaha, with 19.5 percent of the city’s population admitting to binge drinking compared to 17.5 percent of Las Vegas residents, Trevena said that the number of youths partaking in binge drinking has been on the decline due to universities implementing comprehensive environmental management plans combating such detrimental practices.

From offering alcohol-free extracurricular activities and restricting promotion of alcohol, to limiting alcohol availability and enforcing laws and policies regarding illegal and excessive alcohol consumption, universities nationwide are taking a variety of approaches to ensure that their student population doesn’t face a tragedy similar to what occurred at Chico State University.

 “UNO takes the position that students should persist and graduate, and we’ll combat anything that get in the way of that,” Adler said.

To tackle the issue of binge drinking, UNO has implemented the alcohol-free Midnight Mojo, a program that provides free nighttime entertainment and events to students, and works with adult beverage servers to apply a more balanced approach to their drink specials by asking them to serve food or other discounted items at the same time.

For students who already recognize that they may have a drinking problem, UNO also offers three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per week on campus on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon in the HPER building.

“UNO is very fortunate to have this level of support for faculty, staff and students,” Adler said.

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