Colleges trying to stem the tide of student drinking have focused on the evils of intoxication and all the trouble that can ensue when students drink too much. But new psychological research suggests that the downsides of excessive drinking aren’t bad enough to make students stop.
“They intend to get intoxicated,” says psychologist E. Scott Geller, director of the Center for Applied Behavior Systems at Virginia Tech.
“We have shown in several studies that their intentions influence their behavior. If they intend to get drunk, it’s difficult to stop that.”
Geller, who has been studying alcohol awareness since the mid-1980s, notes that education hasn’t worked.
“We thought if we could demonstrate to students that their performance deteriorated under alcohol, they would be convinced that their alcohol consumption has put them at risk,” Geller says. But “knowing that one is impaired, physically and even emotionally, did not seem to reduce alcohol consumption.”
Researchers even tried using Breathalyzers at parties and bars to show students their blood alcohol content.
“It actually encouraged them to drink more,” says Geller, whose research team presented findings earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C.
“I think everybody’s aim is to get drunk on the weekend,” says Brandie Pugh, 22, a senior at Ohio University in Athens. “It’s not about the taste of the alcohol. It’s about the effects of it. It’s about the lowered inhibitions.”
Colleges need to “acknowledge and reckon with” alcohol’s appeal, says Laina Bay-Cheng, an associate professor of social work at the University at Buffalo-State University of New York, who also presented research at the meeting. In focus groups with 97 young people ages 14 to 17, she found that when teenagers drink, they think they can blame their actions on alcohol.
Students in her studies described alcohol as emboldening and said it offers “liquid courage,” a phrase other researchers also have cited.
Drinking allows young women to “act out being sexually assertive, carefree, liberated,” she says, and can be an excuse for their sexual behavior.
“If you have sex, you’re a slut, and if you don’t, you’re a prude — but drinking allows you to do both,” she says. “You can go out, get drunk, have sex and the next day say, ‘I’m still a good girl.'”
Pugh says she has observed that sentiment on campus. “‘I was drunk so I hooked up with that guy.’ ‘I was drunk so I missed my class this morning.’ ‘I was drunk so I got in a fight.’ If it’s something they’re not proud of, it gives them an excuse.”
This is an example of what happens when you try to modify behavior through education. It doesn’t work. Behavior modification comes through a heart transplant.
When your heart is devoted to pleasing and honoring God in word and in deed (Colossians 3:17) your behavior models what you say you believe.
The issue of drinking for teens and college students is that drinking has become their functional “savior”. It’s where they find acceptance, it’s where they find community, and it’s where they try to find happiness.
A relationship with Christ, fulfills these needs and many more, but their has been few examples that model it for them. Most churches and this world preach behavior modification and legalism, but the heart of the matter is that true change comes from the heart. If it were all about keeping a set of rules or following some guidelines to be happy and fulfilled there would be no need for a relationship with Christ. We could all be our own saviors and what we wanted to do would be our redemption.
Thankfully, we’re not good enough and we need someone who is good enough to cover our short comings and failures.
Learn how to begin a relationship with Christ and watch your behavior change to where He becomes your Savior.