On May 5, Everett Glenn, a Black teen from New Jersey, died of a massive heart attack. The heart attack followed an excessive drinking session at a party celebrating his 19th birthday. The Montclair Kimberley Academy student’s passing has helped refocus attention on binge drinking, an issue that has plagued young people across the country.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 44 percent of students attending four-year colleges drink at the binge level or greater. Nearly one in four college students drink 10 or more times per month; 29 percent report getting drunk at least three times per month.
For some college-aged kids, drinking might be a pastime, a rite of passage into the “adult world,” if you will. But not every young person believes in giving their livers an extra workout on the weekends.
“My personal feeling is, I don’t like it at all,” said David Caraballo, a 23-year-old from the Bronx. “But when you’re in college, you’re an adult. You’re capable of making your own choices and you know whether you want to continue drinking or not. Obviously, if you’re under 18, your parents should keep you home working on your studies.”
Contrary to stereotypes about young adults, Caraballo says he only drinks about twice a month. “Alcohol isn’t really on my top list of drinks to consume. It doesn’t register with me.”
Providing a stark contrast, a 20-year-old German man who requested anonymity believes that America’s drinking culture is relatively stringent compared to his home country’s.
“Not being allowed to drink in public feels weird and sometimes annoying,” the transfer student said. “In Germany, alcohol is pretty much an inherent part of most weekends. Alcohol is definitely not considered a drug as it is in the States. Most kids there start drinking a little earlier than 16, but not all do it excessively.” Germany’s legal age for drinking beer or wine is 16, and 18 for spirits.
The student, who said he used to drink once a week before going out with friends back in Germany, has the perfect legal age in mind.
“21 is definitely too old, especially if you compare it with other age requirements like joining the Army. Sixteen is too young, though. Eighteen seems about right. I guess you can say that alcohol is a part of Germany’s culture and is tolerated,” he concluded.
Interestingly enough, a study by Duke University Medical Center between 2005 and 2008 found that African-American teenagers are less likely to abuse alcohol than white, Native American or Hispanic teenagers.
While binge drinking has substantially declined from its peak in the 1970s, it is still prevalent in many colleges and carries additional risks, such as accidental pregnancies, assault, rape and liver disease. Parenting expert Susan Newman says the issue stems mainly from young people seeking acceptance.
“Peer pressure is probably the largest component. It comes in the form of wanting to fit in, wanting to be part of the group, wanting to appear savvy and adult. And that is beyond dangerous thinking,” she said.
Newman also noted the ignorance many young people have about the dangers inherent in chugging ’em down. “There is a serious lack of education about the dangers of binge drinking. Education is something high schools and parents should be hammering home before a student leaves for campus, especially considering the fact that young, developing bodies react more quickly to alcohol than adults do.”