Drunk and Educated: Binge Drinking On Campus (Part One)
Alcohol comes in many tastes, textures and amounts. Some people view alcohol as an art form that should be sipped, tasted and critiqued with little cubes of cheese. Others consume it as a way to escape the stresses we face on a daily basis. No matter how it’s poured, for centuries human civilization has enjoyed the effects an alcoholic beverage affords us – with me being an exception. I’ve never bought into or acquired a taste for drinking. To be honest, I’ve never had my own drink let alone experience the quickly forgotten wonders of being drunk. It could be chalked up to fear of the unknown or being financially cheap. Either way, abstinence became a part of my character. When I finally decided to further my education, I had absolutely no interest in becoming entwined in the party culture that claims so many postsecondary students. However, not everyone is as readily opposed. As students free themselves from their parent’s influence for the first time and join their peers in weekly three day bingers, it’s all too easy to live in the moment.
It could just be my biased point of view, but I always saw college and university as the poster children for alcohol abuse. To be fair, I would blame popular culture for that. However, it turns out there may be some merit to that. In a 2010 Statistics Canada study on binge drinking, nearly five million Canadians over the age of 12 reported consuming five or more drinks on one occasion at least once a month (See sidebar). That may not seem like a lot with a total population of roughly 34 million, but if you look closely, two-fifths are between the ages of 20 and 34. That’s more than double any other age group. With the average college student being in their early twenties, I felt there had to be some correlation between college and alcohol abuse.
Wanting to understand why drinking was so common place and accepted on campus, I set out to find some answers. Why is drinking so prevalent among our youth? Why is alcohol even served in an educational setting? Just who is responsible for the regurgitated pizza in our driveway and the holes that were accidentally punched through our walls?
To give me some background, I needed to hear what it was like to hit the bottom of the bottle. I wanted to know why so many kids would drink themselves sick just to continue feeling terrible the next day. For 28-year-old alumnus Brock Kennedy, it was something “you just did.”
“I started to drink because when we were about 16 my mom encouraged being able to drink at a young age for some reason. She would purchase liquor so we could party when we were in high school. Once we got out of high school and went to university, it just became a reason to drink all the time because it was there, because I could, because a lot of the culture in school and around the university promotes drinking and being able to handle your liquor, but at the same time it promotes study and discipline.
“When you’re on campus, you’re talking with certain people who like to drink. It’s like everyone does it almost. You can relate stories to each other when you’re drinking. Any time I would do anything with my friends it was always centered around going to the campus bar or going to a local bar in Hamilton, because that was just what I thought was what people did and I thought it was normal until it got out of hand.”
Kennedy says he couldn’t find the balance between studying and partying, which ended up leading him down a dangerous path.
“I got into first year and I did okay there. I did all right in second year, but I knew I wasn’t applying myself to the fullest of my abilities. So when it came down to the third year [drinking] ended up getting out of control. I was drinking all the time, every other night, and it amounted way in excess to any doctor recommended amounts.”
Grades began to plummet as Kennedy put his schooling on hiatus and worried about a good time.
“I remember in school, a buddy of mine and I would go to Billy Bob’s [a local bar] at seven o’clock at night and take advantage of the two dollar drinks. We would drink ten beers each and then drive over to the university campus and go the bar there. That sticks out in my head as something you don’t want to do because it was probably one of the low points. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Kennedy says his drinking became so bad that he was consuming a bottle of rye a day. Feeling like a “waste of space,” he would sit around and watch TV or play video games all day. Slowly he became insecure about his appearance and wouldn’t even go outside or attend classes, which only reinforced his drinking habits. Kennedy says he feels lucky to have survived those days. However, he didn’t walk away from it unscathed. Among having to face depression and anxiety at the time, and dealing with rapid weight gain and sleep apnea, Kennedy was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes several years ago.
Weighing nearly 400 pounds and knowing his life could be in danger, Kennedy looked into having gastric bypass surgery. However, being a smoker and overweight, he was asked to quit smoking for six months and to shed some weight during the examination before being considered a candidate for the surgery.
“I quit smoking right there…It was funny. That clinic was a wake up call. We went there and they were like ‘Hey, here’s the way we’re going to do it. Follow this program and if you follow it exactly, you’re going to have success.’”
After tasting what it was like to regain control over his life, Kennedy eventually declined the offer to undergo the surgery.
“I went and had a meeting at St. Joseph’s clinic after six months elapsed, where I was supposed to be smoke-free, and told them I was doing really well. The clinic armed me with all the tools needed to continue the weight loss and to have a normal and healthy lifestyle. I’ve been able to maintain eating properly and staying active and that’s what you need to do. I didn’t want to alter my body when I knew I could do it myself.”
After pulling himself out of the gutter, Kennedy has lost 153 pounds, reversed the effects of type 2 diabetes, put his sleep apnea to rest and found the confidence to finally finish his studies. Starting in 2002, it took Kennedy nine years to finally get his Bachelor of Arts Degree from McMaster.