By Jake Byczkowski
I’ve never agreed with the formal definition of ‘binge drinking,’ I think it limits the debate and understanding of what problem drinking really is. The CDC defines binge drinking as four or five drinks in two hours. A few weeks ago I went to a baseball game with my father. Throughout the game he and I had two 16-ounce beers each. After the game we went to a bourbon bar across the river and each had a glass of bourbon, maybe an ounce apiece. I’m sure that by official definition my father and I were both binge drinking that evening. My father is in his 50’s, and baseball, beer and bourbon is just an interest we both share. And I am not about to tell a successful, healthy, 50-year-old man that having some drinks during and after a baseball game with his son is a bad idea. Neither of us were reckless that evening. And it’s not like as soon as we crossed the threshold of that fourth drink that we all of a sudden were exponentially more likely to do something ridiculous, like heave hotel furniture off a fourteenth floor balcony. Even if we did decide to end our evening by throwing hotel furniture off of a fourteenth floor balcony, I can assure you that our decision to do so was heavily influenced by something other then the few drinks we had at a baseball game.
To often do I feel that Alcohol Awareness is accompanied by terms like “binge drinking” and other numbers and statistics used to describe the habits of college students. When we bombard students with these numbers it is easier to ignore them, then to try and decipher their meaning.
I think we need to change the way we think about what alcohol awareness is and what problem drinking really means. Alcohol Awareness is not shouting numbers and stats at students. And though that may not be it’s intent, as a recent college graduate I can promise you that’s what it can feel like. Alcohol Awareness needs to be used as a platform to facilitate some sort of internal dialogue with each individual student. The problems that students experience due to their alcohol consumption cannot always be defined by numbers, rather, they are defined by actions.
When I was in college I was a serious problematic drinker. But because of these numbers it was easy for me to watch the behavior of my peers and decide that my drinking, in fact, was not problematic. Everyone around me was drinking the same as I was. What I failed to recognize was that though I was drinking just as much as everyone else I knew, alcohol had a different effect on me than others. One particular quarter my behavior had gotten so out of hand that a friend actually sat me down and told me that he felt I had a drinking problem. I thought about what he was telling me and again I found myself going back to these numbers. Yes, by textbook definition I had a drinking problem, but, by text book definition so did he, and so did the rest of my friends. So why was I being singled out? Through some serious self-evaluation, I realized what he was actually saying. He wasn’t coming to me saying, “Jake, you have a drinking problem and if you’re not careful you could become an alcoholic and die.” What he was saying was “Jake, you have a problem, and when you drink you turn into a punk and a jerk and no one wants to be around you anymore.” If we think about what college students experience as a result of their excessive drinking–vomiting, fighting, drunk driving, drunk texting–we can all agree that these are problems that occur when we drink. Rather then trying to convince college students that problematic drinking is related to the number of drinks they have and the frequency at which they have those drinks, we need to get each student to ask one single question. “Do problems often occur when I drink?” The answer to this question is the definition of problem drinking.
My advice to everyone–students, parents, college administrators, siblings and friends–if there is an individual you are concerned about, do not approach them and use these terms. Because trust me, they’ve all heard it before. Speak their language and give them hard evidence, evidence they cannot ignore or deny. If they are the type person that ends up crying in the corner of every party as soon as they get drunk, that is a problem. If they continually get drunk and decide that it’s a good idea to punch something in the face, that is a problem. If they get drunk and embarrass themselves by trying to sleep with every person that crosses their path, that is a problem.
Alcohol Awareness is taking ownership over your own actions as well as the actions of your peers. It is about eliminating problematic drinking by utilizing the personal relationships we have with one another. And finally it is about creating a better, healthier, safer community on each individual campus. A community where individuals take an active role in the fight against alcohol related harm.
As a 2011 graduate of The Ohio State University, and a member of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, Jake has just stepped out of unique world that is Fraternity and Sorority Life. Throughout his college career, Jake constantly found himself in harmful situations due to his alcohol consumption. Since graduating, Jake has given his time and efforts to figuring out why he continually put himself in harms way and how could he have prevented many of the tragedies he experienced. Jake is now a speaker for CAMPUSPEAK and has devoted his career to speaking to college students about their alcohol use and how to reduce alcohol-related harm.