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Non-alcoholic social events shouldn't send three to McCosh

Last year, when the board of trustees was crafting its alcohol initiative, it must have been working off the assumption that "more non-alcoholic events = less drinking = healthier students." Surprisingly enough, that equation doesn't hold true on the Princeton campus.

Consider the Feb. 26 freshman formal. No alcohol was served, yet three students required transportation to McCosh Infirmary. In contrast, no students were in need of medical transport from Colonial Club (where the formal was held) the previous Saturday — when alcohol was being served — nor the Saturday before that, nor the Saturday before that. Clearly, there's something wrong with the very premise upon which the alcohol initiative is based.


The problem here is in the minds of potential drinkers, where "more non-alcoholic events" does not necessarily equal "less drinking." Instead, students drink beforehand or "flask it." Even those students who aren't planning to binge drink may end up doing so because they're not used to gauging the potency of hard alcohol, which they consume before going out to the 'Street.' The fact that the eating clubs serve beer, not vodka, is really much more of a blessing than a bane.

Yet some students, no doubt, will still drink beer to excess. The trustees were correct in recognizing that binge drinking poses a serious hazard — no other college ritual has led to so much illness and destruction — yet they were wrong in determining why that is. Yes, it's true that Princeton's social climate seems to revolve around alcohol. And yes, it's true that peer pressure increases the frequency and/or amount of alcohol consumed. But these facts are not what cause binge drinking — they just happen to correlate. I mean, why do peers pressure each other to drink in the first place? Why does Princeton's social climate revolve around alcohol and not square dancing or games of Parcheesi?

The answer is simple: Because alcohol is a drug and drinking it produces pleasurable effects. If alcohol were non-intoxicating, I imagine we'd be playing a lot more Parcheesi on this campus. People drink because they like feeling relaxed, sociable, even out of control — not because there's nothing else to do or because the pressure to drink is unbearable. Alcohol would not have retained its popularity for thousands of years if it were seen only as an alternative to theatrical entertainment and non-alcoholic soirees. Thus, cracking down on problem drinking from the position of "abstinence is best" is ridiculous because it's impractical.

For example, the ads McCosh puts in the 'Prince' the night before big events such as Winter Formals and House Parties are completely useless, though they're quite entertaining. Suggestions like "Why not switch to fruit juice, which has an alcohol content of zero" and "Be sure to eat beforehand so the alcohol does not hit you hard" assume that students don't want to get drunk, that getting drunk is an accident. Surprise: Most students want the alcohol to hit them hard. They want to get hammered.

In light of the real reason for binge drinking ("alcohol = pleasure"), we must consider if there is anything the trustees can, or should, do to curb campus drinking. Obviously, the trustees must do something to prevent occurrences of alcohol poisoning, but as the freshman formal fiasco illustrates, preaching abstinence is not the solution. Rather, the board of trustees should stress drinking in moderation, and should do it more forcefully than by citing statistics or spreading the message through residential advisors. We've all heard that binge drinking is defined as having four to five alcoholic beverages in one sitting, but what does that mean? Students do not drink in measured quantities or in a fixed location. After a few shots, a game of Beirut, a 16-oz. cup here and a 12-oz. cup there, it's hard to keep track of how much alcohol has been consumed.

Moderation is all about knowing your limit, and knowing your limit is all about feelings, not numbers. Rather than teach us to count our beers — as if we were keeping track of points on a Weight Watchers diet — the trustees should devise a more hands-on approach to encourage safe drinking.


For example, students could pile into McCosh 50 during orientation week and watch, in a controlled setting, how exactly successive drinks affect the body. A live demonstration would be best, but I'm sure there are videotapes out there that get the same message across. Naturally, many administrators would argue that such an assembly encourages underage drinking, just as handing out condoms in high school condones premarital sex. But isn't it better to condone moderation than deal with excessive abuse?

I suppose we can ignore the facts and cling to ideals. After all, it'll probably be a few months before another non-alcoholic dance sends three more students to the hospital. Andrew Shtulman is a psychology major from Poquoson, Va. He can be reached at

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