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Law enforcement cracks down on binge drinking, drinking games

Free beer, dollar pitchers, two for one, three for one, bring your own cup and $1 shots – sweet music to the financially challenged, fun-seeking college student’s ear. Add in a couple games of beer pong, flip cup or quarters and the night is sure to be memorable. But when does binge drinking stop being all fun and games and start being a serious issue?

Alcohol is a way of life for most college students, who see drinking as an integral part – if not the definition of – the ultimate college experience. These overeager and often underage students, thrilled with their new freedom and the uninhibited good times seemingly inextricably linked with alcohol, dive headfirst into chronic binge drinking.

Binge drinking is defined as more than five drinks in a 90-minute period.

According to a spring 2009 Core Alcohol and Drug Survey of LSU students, a whopping 70.4 percent of students under 21 reported that they consumed alcohol in the previous 30 days. In addition, 48.8 percent of students reported binge drinking in the previous two weeks – a figure which a trip to any college bar on a given night can confirm.

Most LSU students are beyond familiar with the textbook negative consequences of binge drinking such as drunken driving, injury, alcohol poisoning, assault, sexual abuse and academic problems but are far from taking to heart the Center for Disease Control statistics. Binge drinking can also lead to alcohol dependency and the inability to interact socially without alcohol, two of the more pervasive effects of longtime overconsumption.

LSU consistently ranks as a top party school, and students drink like they’re trying to prove the title accurate. Students, like Franklin Brandt Becnel, associate binge drinking and drinking games with student life as well as irreverent youthfulness. “Everyone is young and just want to party and have a good time. They are living life,” said the NREM sophomore.

“It’s what college kids do, especially freshmen and sophomores. It’s a rite of passage,” agreed Spanish major David Dietz. Although, he admits, there are drawbacks. “After two years of binge drinking, you finally realize, ‘Wow, I’ve got a beer belly and my grades suck. Let’s get focused,’” said the senior, who frequently plays the drinking games 7-11’s and doubles at home with his six student roommates.

Drinking games are seen as a positive social experience – you meet other players in a fun college-y setting, and the alcohol only helps to lubricate the social interactions. “[Drinking games] are fun and an incredible ice breaker. Even the dude with anti-game can meet a girl,” said Dietz.

Drinking games, however entertaining, can be dangerous and quick paths to binge drinking, or as Becnel precisely summarized: “If you are not binge drinking during drinking games then you are not playing the game correctly.”

For Murphy Painter, commissioner of the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, the concept of a drinking game is an inherent, risky contradiction because “as corny as it may sound to our younger generation, alcohol is a regulated commodity for a valid reason, and drinking it is no game.”

Even considering that “drinking is no game,” several Baton Rouge bars allow drinking games on their premises because it draws in a large student crowd that might otherwise stay at home to plunk quarters into shot glasses or shoot ping pong balls into Dixie cups.

State law prohibits bars from encouraging drunkenness and from serving drunken customers, so although state law does not directly prohibit drinking games on the premises – as long as the bar is not advocating drunkenness or offering prizes to winners – it discourages bars from offering the alcohol-based competitions because they lead to overconsumption of alcohol.

“About a dozen bars around Louisiana have been ticketed this year for games that encouraged binge drinking,” Painter told the Times Picayune. “I’m not ordering anybody to stop. All I’m doing is telling them they’re placing themselves in jeopardy [if the game leads to binge drinking.]”

However, the ATC is not breaking down bar doors and issuing fines indiscriminately: “Most of our responses have been from complaints received,” explained Painter. “We will investigate all known games and if there is alcohol being served to intoxicated persons, tickets will be issued.” In more serious cases involving injury or death, civil and criminal charges can be pursued.

Because drinking games go hand-in-hand with student culture, a critical distinction must be made here between “student bars” and “bars where students drink.” A “student bar” will sport college paraphernalia, advertise almost exclusively to students and house an almost 100 percent student population. These bars tout a university atmosphere of loud excess and would be the likely location of a plywood-covered pool table serving as a beer pong court.

A bar where students drink, on the other hand, serves a wide age range of patrons who have gotten the days of crazy immoderacy out of their system. You would be hard pressed to find drinking games in these Baton Rouge bars.

Red Star owner Frank McMains said that although his bar attracts a large number of students, it has never crossed his mind to host drinking games at his bar because “Red Star doesn’t really have that vibe.” McMains remains compliant with ATC regulations by offering drink specials only within regulated times and at regulated prices, and Red Star’s bartenders are certified and trained not to serve anyone who’s had too much to drink.

It is relatively easy to eliminate drinking games in bars, but it is much harder to eliminate overconsumption of alcohol. In theory, anything can be turned into a drinking game – a fact that some students use to boast their creativity – and anyone who wants to get drunk can do so without the aid of teammates and game equipment. What can lawmakers and school officials do to help the students realize that they are not unbreakable?

The first important step is alcohol education. “LSU takes the issue of high-risk drinking very seriously and has policies in place to help students make more informed choices,” said Hope McPhatter, Wellness Education Coordinator for the Student Health Center.

One such policy is MyStudentBody.com, a mandatory online alcohol education program put in place by the Wellness Education Department to ensure that all incoming students will have basic knowledge about the dangers and consequences of high risk drinking, how to help a friend and where to find resources available should there be a problem. The deadline for this spring is April 23, 2010.

Enforcement of campus alcohol laws is another preventative measure – albeit unpopular among students. The Office of Student Advocacy and Accountability works to keep individual students and the campus as a whole safe by enforcing the code of conduct on alcohol and other drugs, and the Residential Life staff is trained to recognize and respond to situations concerning alcohol.

The biggest impediment to the prevention of overconsumption of alcohol is a raucous student drinking culture. Students must realize the consequences of their actions and learn moderation even as they celebrate their youth and freedom.

source: Tiger Weekly

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