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Drink Until You Drop: The Perils of Attending Fraternity, Sorority Parties

Posted on June 23rd, 2016
Posted in Alcoholism, Articles

Fraternities and sororities are central to the social life on many college campuses. They offer a stamp of approval for those chosen as members and a sense of pride for parents of students who are accepted into their ranks. They present opportunities to be of service and teach valuable leadership skills as well as promoting team-building. Those who have entered into their ranks have shared that they feel like they are with people who have become “family of choice,” with whom they can network long after their college years have ended.

What may feel like the next best thing to onlookers is to be invited to a party by friends who have “made the grade.” What may come to mind are comedic scenes from the 1978 film “Animal House” that seem relatively tame compared to the drug- and alcohol-fueled festivities that are hallmarks of Greek gatherings today. Although there were hijinks, food fights, students dressed in togas sloshing beer all over themselves and young women demurely defending their virginity, allegations of sexual assault didn’t ensue.

The Dark Side of Greek Life

These days, the mentality is more “drink until you drop,” as if Greek life is an endurance test or a measure of masculinity. It is fraught with danger for men and women who choose to imbibe irresponsibly. The “boys will be boys” paradigm that places men in the role of hypersexual perpetrators and women in the role of hapless victims stems from those dynamics.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center:

  • 75% of fraternity members engaged in heavy drinking, compared with 49% of other male students.
  • 62% of sorority members engaged in binge drinking versus 41% of non-sorority members.

In a 2014 article published in Time magazine called, “Fraternities Are Their Own Worst Enemies, Not Drunk Girls,” the author reports that, “Fraternities are regularly involved in litigation surrounding hazing deaths, usually as a result of binge drinking by pledges. Take some examples from just the past few years: a student rushing Sigma Phi Epsilon at Clemson allegedly fell off a bridge during a pledge activity; 22 students in Pi Kappa Alpha at Northern Illinois University have been charged in the death of a student who was forced to drink 40 ounces of vodka in less than 90 minutes; and another student at the University of Delaware died after being told he had to consume a full bottle of booze at a party.”

Sexual Assault Is a Frightening Reality

Two fraternities at Brown University established an environment that “facilitated sexual misconduct,” according to an article in the New York Times, when a female student who was sexually assaulted tested positive for gamma hydroxybutyrate, a date-rape drug more commonly known as GHB.

John D. Foubert, a professor of higher education and student affairs at Oklahoma University who studies sexual assault, perceives fraternities and their entrenched attitudes toward women as a major part of the problem. Research, he said, “has shown that fraternity men are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than other college men.”

At the core of this dynamic is the fraternity house “herd mentality” that objectifies women, as well as the negative body images that some young women in sororities hold when comparing themselves to others. Women who view themselves in a negative light are more likely to place themselves in precarious situations. These elements combined provide the toxic environment that, when fueled by alcohol, can deteriorate into assault.

The University of Missouri-Columbia has proposed prohibiting women from attending fraternity parties from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends as a means of preventing sexual assault. While the intention is well meaning, it doesn’t address two core issues — the reliance on alcohol to entertain guests and the rape culture that is so prevalent.

Does Environment Play a Role in Excessive Drinking?

As is a rule of thumb in recovery of “avoiding people, places and things” that are triggers to drinking and drugging, so too is it a reality that environment plays a role in dangerous levels of intoxication.

A National Institute of Health study indicates, “College students who reported that they were exposed to “wet” environments were more likely to engage in binge drinking than were their peers without similar exposures. Wet environments included social, residential and market surroundings in which drinking is prevalent and alcohol cheap and easily accessed.”

How Can Students Safely Attend Parties?

If accepting an invitation is inevitable, there are some safeguards that may be put into place for men and women.

  • Avoid pre-drinking/pre-gaming, which means imbibing prior to the party.
  • Don’t put your drink down — doing so leaves you vulnerable to having another substance placed in it.
  • Attend with a friend and check in with each other throughout the evening.
  • If you choose to drink, do so responsibly.
  • Have an exit strategy — choose a time to leave and stick to it.
  • Trust your instincts about safety. If you have a sense that an interaction feels risky, it probably is.
  • Leave with the friend with whom you arrived.
  • Don’t drink and drive or get into a car with someone who is intoxicated. Call a cab, use Uber, walk or get a ride home from a designated driver.

Many campuses across the country, including Dartmouth, the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin, have harm reduction policies that incorporate sober monitors. These are students who have undergone training to enable them to help maintain a safe environment. Their responsibilities include checking IDs at the door, refusing entry if the person is intoxicated, asking a partygoer to leave if his or her behavior becomes dangerous, contacting 911 if an emergency arises and arranging for rides home for anyone too impaired to drive. They are required to maintain sobriety before and during the party.

Even if you don’t pledge to a sorority or fraternity, you can still pledge to safety in the midst of a potentially precarious party.

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