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Boston 25 News tackles alcohol issue

Here is the story link and an excerpt.

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BOSTON — For some, it is as intrinsic to the college experience as living in a dorm, drinking alcohol. In some cases, lots of alcohol — even so much as to require medical attention.

That kind of drinking went on at UMass-Amherst this past March when an all-day alcohol ingestion event called the Blarney Blowout ended with more than two dozen students needing medical attention. The emergency department at Cooley-Dickinson Hospital in Northampton was reportedly overwhelmed that day with potential alcohol-poisoning cases.

All of the UMass students survived the Blarney Blowout. But, sadly, that has not always been the case on college campuses. In 2013, Anthony Barksdale, an 18-year-old freshman at Boston University, died after heavy drinking during a fraternity event.

“There’s just simply this belief that it happens to somebody else,” said Hank Nuwer, who authored several books on college binge drinking — especially as it relates to hazing.

Nuwer said that while alcohol has a long history on college campuses, drinking seemed to accelerate when the legal age went from 18 to 21 in the United States.

“Right around that time, you can start seeing the hazing increase, the alcohol-related deaths increase,” Nuwer said. “And maybe the simple reason for it is when you prohibit something it either becomes more attractive or it becomes necessary to break that rule, especially when you’re in a group or a fraternity.”

But there have been serious consequences to breaking that rule. The government reports about 22,000 college-age Americans wind up hospitalized each year because of alcohol use — as many as 1,500 die.

Nuwer maintains an online list of fatal hazing incidents in the U.S., going all the way back to 1838. Most of the more recent ones involve heavy ingestion of alcohol.

“(With pledging) the litmus test of manhood is to be able to drink a handle of alcohol — you’re talking about 40 ounces — plus shots of alcohol,” Nuwer said. “So you could have anywhere from 40 to 50 ounces or more that you’re consuming in 20 minutes, maybe an hour.”

Nuwer said that amount of alcohol would prove fatal to some students.

“The problem is that many do survive, and then the expectation is that the next group will survive,” said Nuwer. “This kind of invincible spirit is pervasive on all campuses.”

But invincibility is not guaranteed when it comes to alcohol and, in any case, isn’t apportioned equally — sometimes for the simple reason that young college students may lack drinking experience. Such was the case with Barksdale, according to his family at the time.

“If you’re not used to drinking alcohol, you are very susceptible to alcohol poisoning,” said Antje Barreveld, MD, co-founder of Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s Substance Use Service. “So it doesn’t take as much as it does for someone who already has an inherent tolerance.”

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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