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Butt Chugging and Binge Drinking Raise Questions of Personal Responsibility

Should the Minimum Drinking Age be lowered from 21?

The latest demonstration of irresponsible student behavior on college campuses is “Butt Chugging.” Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.  For the sake of transparency, I need to define it, explain why it is done (Can there be a valid reason?), and point out the dangers along with the more popular practice on college campuses of “binge drinking.”

Butt Chugging has made its way into the Urban Dictionary – a Web-based dictionary of slang words and phrases. It contains over 5 million definitions. It is defined as “the act of ingesting alcohol through ones rectum…to increase the alcohol’s effect and the speed with which one becomes intoxicated.” You probably heard about the scandal on the campus of the University of Tennessee.

Early last Saturday, 20-year-old Alexander P. Broughton of Pi Kappa Alpha was brought to the emergency room and showed a blood-alcohol level thought to be “well over” .4, five times the legal limit, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. The police officers went inside the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house where the butt chugging event took place and found several young males passed out in their bedrooms with “bags from wine boxes, some empty and some partially empty, strewn across the halls and rooms."

University of Tennessee police issued a dozen citations for underage drinking. The University of Tennessee suspended the fraternity chapter indefinitely.

I could say a lot about butt chugging but the best way to characterize it might be to point out that CNN reporter Anderson Cooper included it in his nightly “RidicuList.” Even the Deltas in Animal House didn’t act this way. They had more sense!!!

The most important issue is why students engage in the practice or the more common binge drinking. From my experience as a college professor I have found too many students are influenced by the ridiculous videos that often pop up on YouTube and images that can be seen nightly on a variety of reality TV shows. Often the butt chugging events are captured by cell phones and may even go viral. I found a variety of such videos with thousands of hits. I suppose students are looking for their 15 minutes of fame.

Too many students seem to be searching for a quicker, “better” way of making fools of themselves. If they could only channel their energies into studying math, science, and technology, perhaps we wouldn’t have to rely on immigrants to fill these key jobs that US students are unprepared – or unwilling – to fill.

Binge drinking is a much bigger problem on college campuses and may be the result of peer pressure and the stress that students feel to get good grades, graduate, and get (any) job. In a previous blog I wrote about the “boomerang generation.”

Binge drinking is commonly described as consuming five or more drinks in one sitting, more than once a week. According to a survey by The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “approximately two of every five college students of all ages have reported engaging in binge drinking at least once.”

From a broader perspective, the NIAAA also points out that "every year approximately 5,000 people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking. This includes 1,900 deaths from car accidents, 1,600 homicides, 300 suicides, and hundreds of other accidental deaths such as drownings, falls, burns."

Historically, states had a patchwork of laws, some restricting drinking to 21-year olds while others allowed it at 18 years old. President Ronald Reagan signed into effect the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (NMDAA) in 1984 to standardize the 21-year old requirement for all states. Many special interest groups promoted NMDAA. Perhaps the most influential special was Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). MADD claims that the higher minimum legal drinking age has saved thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of lives.

You may know of some parents who allow their kids to drink after turning 18 and before 21. The reason often given is since my son/daughter can join the military and fight in a war at 18, then s/he should be able to drink at 18. Another is if my kid can vote at 18 why not allow him/her to consume alcohol at that age? Some parents believe it will lead to more responsible alcohol-consumption practices down the road.

My feeling is as parents we need to set boundaries and stick to them. I also believe kids want boundaries and act more responsibly as a result in part because they come to believe their parents care about what happens to them. Learning to wait until 21 establishes those boundaries and, I believe, will lead to a sense of accomplishment for our youngsters once they make it to that age without consuming alcohol. This is an important lesson to learn in life – set a goal, stick to it, and celebrate your success.

I recall an incident on my college campus last year when a female student who engaged in binge drinking was raped. She barely remembered the incident or that she was unable to ward off her attacker because she was close to being unconscious as a result of her excessive alcohol consumption. I shudder to think how it will affect her life and future relationships.

Butt chugging, binge drinking, and underage drinking are serious problems that have significant potential to ruin the life of the individual engaging in those acts as well as others around them. All too many students engage in such behavior because they do not seem to understand that their actions have consequences. They approach life from a what’s in it for me or how will it make me feel perspective without thinking about how their actions might hurt others.

I’m concerned about the rationalizations put forth by some to lower the drinking age. I suppose it has become common place to identify problems these days by labeling them as disorders. Some have said those abusers of alcohol may suffer from "alexithymia." That is, they have troubles using words to help themselves feel better. They can talk easily and clearly about their feelings - but putting their feelings into words doesn't help them manage those emotions.

I don’t mean to belittle a disorder and recognize it may exist. I simply raise the following questions in closing: Don’t we have free will? Shouldn’t we learn to take control of our own lives and not have it defined by others? Isn’t it part of being a responsible person to control our desires, actions and behaviors and learn to do good for the sake of helping ourselves and others? Shouldn’t we take responsibility for our own actions?

I fear we have morphed into a society where all too many tend to blame others for their woes.

Perhaps Albert Einstein said it best so many years ago: “Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility.”

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 28, 2012