Alcohol on college campuses is not the problem. Yeah, I said it. Let me say it again – alcohol on college campuses is not the problem! How we choose to use alcohol is the problem. That is really the issue. It’s not the fact that students drink that is a concern for most people. The concern is in how people misuse or even abuse alcohol.
In case you’re already a little confused, allow me the opportunity to explain a little more about who I am. I am not your average alcohol speaker. What many of them do is come to your campus, or to your organizations, and they stand up in front of you and basically say something to the affect of, “…you people really need to stop drinking!” And then after the program they go back to their hotel room and what do you think they do? That’s right – they drink! You will never hear me tell an audience not to drink. I think it is very hypocritical…at least it would be for me. Yeah, that’s right, I do drink. So it would be wrong for me to tell you not to. I do think we should follow the rules and the laws, but I’m not the type to believe that a zero-tolerance mindset works.
I also don’t have a big story to tell you. I’ve never killed anyone in a car wreck; I’m not a recovering alcoholic; I’m not from a family of alcoholics; none of that stuff. Now don’t hear me wrong. Those stories carry a great message. You should listen and make sure you don’t head down the same path. But that’s not me.
My approach to alcohol is very simple. If you want to drink, that’s your business. It really is. But what I will ask is this – if you choose to drink, just slow down! You know how it is – most college parties operate off the “finish it all” method. The party ain’t over until the alcohol is gone! So really, I see that as being a big part of the issue. Most people who choose to drink alcohol simply need to slow down a little.
I think it’s also important that we take a moment to acknowledge something else. It seems like more and more are choosing not to drink at all. For whatever reason. Personally, I think college students have very tough decisions to make when it comes to their social life. And, honestly, choosing not to drink at all is probably the best answer for some – or maybe for everyone from time-to-time. I applaud those who are able to make this decision. I think it is really awesome that they are able to overcome the peer pressure to drink that often exists within the college social scene.
But for those who still choose to consume alcohol, let’s continue this conversation.
We need to follow that old message – “If you drink – drink responsibly!” So here’s the deal. If you want to drink…to drink responsibly…you really have to recognize a couple of things that are reflected in our rules. Believe me – if there is something we have rules about in today’s fraternities and sororities, it is alcohol. Loads of rules. Notebooks of rules. You go to a national fraternity or sorority meeting and they’ll give you the notebook. They probably even have a video supporting the notebook. They may even have a speaker like me there to help you understand the notebook and video so you can return to your campus and simply fix the problems with alcohol! But really, if you read the rules closely, there are only two big ones that must be followed. Two rules, out of the entire notebook that are absolute requirements.
Rule #1 – you have to be 21-years-old to drink alcohol! I know – sounds a little strange, but that’s the rule! It’s the law in all fifty states! I’m not sure what you think about this law; I’m not even sure what I think about it. But I do know this. It’s not a fraternity policy. It’s not even a school policy. It’s not something your board of trustees came up with one night just to make you and your friends mad. It is a federally mandated state law. Now, remember – I’m not going to tell you not to drink; even if you’re under this age limit. I still think it’s your decision. But here is what I will ask. If you choose to drink and you are under the age of 21, please do not try to tell me you are a responsible drinker. We decided a long time ago in this country that when you violate the laws you are being irresponsible. So really, if you choose to drink under that age I just hope you are mature enough to choose to accept whatever repercussions might come with this decision. When you get caught don’t start screaming and yelling, throwing things at the officer, crying about whom you are or what family you’re from or how much money your family has given to the school. You knew this law way before I brought it up here so if you choose to drink and you’re underage, just choose to accept responsibility for this decision if/when you get caught.
Rule #2 – this one is really simpler than the first. Rule #2 simply says, you can’t get drunk! I know – you are ready to argue. Some of you may live in places where simply being drunk isn’t against the rules. But here is my thought. Have you ever realized that our parties seem to be okay until folks have had too much to drink and that’s when we start to have problems? I really do believe that if the school administrators could be honest…and the police could be honest…they don’t have big problem with the fact that students choose to drink. If they do it’s really more of a moral issue than one related to the rules, etc. What they have a problem with is when we have had too much and that’s when it becomes a problem for both the drinker and those around them. And while we’re talking about it, I have also found that not near as many of our members get drunk as we may think. In fact, I think if you watched closely you would find that most of our members drink fairly responsibly. But we still have that handful that we need to address. That small group that needs some leadership.
So those are the rules. Just two of them. But here’s yet another thought. I really do believe that if we took care of rule #2 we wouldn’t even have to talk about rule #1. Again, it’s not that folks are drinking that causes the issues – regardless of their age. The issues only seem to start once folks have had too much to drink and turn stupid as a result.
Please let me be clear. We do have rules. We have notebooks of rules. But really, if you read them closely, all those rules in the notebooks relate to one of these two: 1) if you are underage you can’t drink, and 2) regardless of your age you shouldn’t get drunk. Any of the others may relate to things like fire codes, proper facility management, etc. Our rules are important. It is important that we recognize that people are generally held to a minimum standard. If you choose to join a fraternity or a sorority we are even held to a higher standard. And there is good reason for all of these rules and regulations. But in the end, when it comes to alcohol and its use, it is fair to simplify the notebook and just accept that we only have two rules. Follow these and you should be fine.
Let me summarize my thoughts in only five words: If you drink, drink responsibly!
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Rick Barnes is a speaker with CAMPUSPEAK. For more information on his programs for college audiences, please visit www.campuspeak.com. Feel free to contact Rick directly by email at Rick@RickBarnesPresents.com.
3 thoughts on “The Basic Rules of Alcohol”
I would agree alcohol is not the problem and it is the responsible use of it (as far as “responsible drinking” can go. I do, however, believe micro-managing people and alcohol takes away individual accountability and personal responsibility as people have a tendency to blame others. Drinking on campus is never going to stop, and appears to be more rampant than when I was in school. It is part of the college experience and always will be, like it or not.
Kit Butler ‘832’
This is a very reasonable and sensible article. I would add/qualify in two ways:
1. In Canada (where I am), the drinking age is 18 or 19 (depending upon the province). We are frustrated when our American brothers ignore this, and wish that they could respect our laws and customs.
2. Guys are going to do what they want. But you should look out for your brothers and your friends. If someone is getting too drunk, get them in a cab, into bed, or otherwise away from the party. They’ll thank you the next day, believe me.
Great post Rick. I love the wit and tone – which seem to mirror your speeches (if you haven’t heard Rick speak, get ready to laugh and think).
I agree with your points, especially with Rule #1, and how those who choose to drink underage need to accept any legal consequences that come. Thanks to the internet, massive education campaigns, speakers like you, etc. there is no longer a single 18-year college student who doesn’t know that the drinking age is 21. I would even wager to say that there isn’t a single 18-year college student who doesn’t know the harmful effects of alcohol. Given that, underage drinking is not a mistake – it’s a choice – and the ramifications of that choice need to be accepted.
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