by NICK BUCHANAN
I’m a teetotaler.
This is a statement that is very much against the grain in our generation. At my age, I should get a thrill out of how easy it is for someone under the age of 21 to get alcohol. I should have a fake ID; a friend over 21 who smuggles me drinks for the cost of the product plus gas money; a cool mom within my friend group back home who just lets us drink at her house. Instead, I get shocked looks that I don’t drink alcohol by my own choice – shocked looks unprecedented in blatancy, even compared to ones I tell right-wing conservatives my sexuality or spirituality.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not above today's alcohol-fueled culture. While I don’t drink, I do wait tables at an establishment that carries the tagline “Saturdays are for getting bucked up” and get tipped based on how well I seduce patrons into adding tens of extra dollars in liquor to their bills – and I’m shameless in doing so. I often joke with the phrase, “I’m going to start drinking soon” in times of stress. I eat, sleep, and breathe popular music, which relies on the exploitation of societal trends – hardcore clubbing, drinking until you black out, and the like.
But I have my reasons for abstaining from alcohol in my personal life. Aside from my belief that it’s a poison and the fact that I’m a high self-monitor who demands constant control and composure, my fear of addiction ranks near the top of my list. When you grow up in a household plagued by an addiction and with a family tree that is checkered with multiple forms of it, the fear kind of comes as a standard feature.
You see, my abstinence from alcohol (and cigarettes, marijuana, and party drugs, for that matter) doesn’t equate to my having a problem with people who enjoy them, but by being disconnected from the dominant party culture that stresses the use of them, I would argue that we’ve normalized a good number of substances and behaviors that aggravate addiction in American culture as solely pleasurable play things and without repercussions. This is not to say that twenty-first century society is entirely to blame – after all, alcohol and drugs have been glamorized in the fine arts for a considerable period of time – and it’s not to say that today’s youth party culture (now synonymous with the so-called “college experience”) is entirely to blame for the trivialization of addiction, but it certainly doesn’t help matters.
THE GRAVITY OF AMERICAN ADDICTION
Nearly 23 million Americans over age 12 have had a substance use disorder at some point in their lives, and 75 percent of them did not seek professional treatment.
In 2014, drug overdoses claimed 47,055 lives in the U.S.
That's 129 people every day.
I don’t think it’s out of line to apply the age-old nature versus nurture phenomenon in the relationship between addiction and this party-hard society. The convergence of genetic disposition and environmental factors is said to cause addiction – and we’ve already soaked most social environments with alcohol and drugs, expecting people of all genetics to conform. I mean, we’re living in a time in which we see illegal drug use as a standard for celebrities; in which it is considered trendy to line kitchen cabinets with empty liquor bottles as decorative trophies to commemorate all of the fond memories of binge drinking that have long expired from insufferable Snapchat stories; in which people feel as if they need to be in an altered mental state to enjoy themselves.
You know, I can relate to anybody who uses a common, socially acceptable vice in moderation. After all, we all have at least one. (Mine are dark roast coffee and cheeseburgers; I don’t even want to imagine what kind of state my cardiovascular system is in, but I digress.) Want a drink or two to take the edge off a long day? Go for it. Smoke a quick joint for some relaxation? You do you, Glen Coco.
But the problem in America today lies in excessiveness – it’s evident in not only how often we fall to our vices, but also how we treat nearly everything in this Big Gulp nation. We drink until we’re drunk; we eat until we have to unbutton our pants; we have unprotected sex until we contract something life-altering at the worst (or quite embarrassing at the least).
Why? I would argue the censorship of realistic negative outcomes that stem from recklessness from popular media – as big or as small as they may be – could be part of our problem. For example, take sitcoms on which alcoholics are framed as likable, relatable characters or the butts of jokes (Two and a Half Men, The Simpsons) and teen pregnancy is made to look less chaotic and more comical (Reba, My Wife and Kids). It’s all pretty light-hearted, representative of the best possible outcomes of most situations.
But I feel that as another marketplace of ideas, the popular arts (television, cinema, contemporary music) are much like reputable news media in the sense that they, too, have an unspoken responsibility to represent all ideas equally. It’s a responsibility that I feel most industries could fulfill if they weren’t profit-driven and reliant on ideologies that will sell.
PEOPLE FUEL ADDICTION. ADDICTION FUELS AN INDUSTRY.
Substance abuse generates $166 billion in annual healthcare costs.
Popular music provides a great example of the effects of for-profit media systems, and since it is one of the few things in this life that makes me a happy guy, let’s look at this through the scope I know the best.
Today’s popular music gets a pretty crummy reputation for being vapid in lyrical content. While I could defend the merits of a great number of pop acts, I’ll play devil’s advocate here with the ones who reside on Top 40 radio – the ones on which people base their opinions of “music nowadays.” At the end of the day, most people want to listen to music that they can either relate to or escape reality through. So doesn’t it make sense that so many chart-topping songs out there are about liquor, drugs, sex, the club, booty, and general tomfoolery? I would argue so. Plenty of people love such topics, and commercial radio stations wouldn’t play music that the masses don’t enjoy; that’s a good way not to make money.
In short, songs of this nature are carried into the top positions of the Billboard charts because they’re representative of society right now. I think singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis, known best for her social commentary through pop music, addressed this idea best in a live-streamed forum with the student body at Oxford University earlier this year.
“On the surface, it can and is very much considered as light entertainment. It can be silly and fun. It can be considered frivolous, sometimes superficial. And it is all of those things, but it is also a way of documenting social history,” Diamandis said. “I almost see it as a mirror in a way, which is reflecting the time you’re all living in, so if you ever want to find out something about this moment in time in any kind of society or culture, you look to its popular arts […] and you can get a really good gauge for the attitudes that are inherent in that culture.”
This train of thought demands a look at our current society before one can knock Rihanna and Drake for singing the lyrics we as a generation want to hear – about how fun it is to go savage in the club with a bottle of Hennessey in hand. Believe it or not, artists who demand listeners think about the messages at hand do exist. There are well-versed, articulate artists with pop tendencies like M.I.A. and Lemonade-era Beyoncé who tell us what we need to hear: the fact that real world problems are at our doorstep. They just don’t grace our contemporary hit airwaves because record labels and radio stations know that a good number of people don’t want logic and entertainment to collide; they’d rather run amok through that night club with a bottle in hand, escaping the problems of the world through the creative output of common Top 40 artists that they, in turn, slam as vapid.
And therein sits the root of our problem: while most of us won’t admit it, pleasure and carelessness are the ways to our attention. We ignore the destructive consequences attached to our cultivation of a party-hard society because addressing them is just too hard, too real.
ALCOHOL REMAINS COLLEGE-AGED CULPRIT
38 percent of college students are binge drinkers
25 percent admit to academic problems due to drinking
Alcohol contributes to 696,000 assaults on college-aged adults;
97,000 of those are sexual assaults and date rapes
I don’t want to say that this is a generational thing – let’s not pretend young people have been angels since time immemorial – but good lord, we college students of the twenty-first century can be an unbearable lot in some respects, you know?
Social media has given us an illusion that our life events are more important to others than they actually are, rendering us the most uninhibited in broadcasting our everyday lives – and terrible decisions. (Snapchat, the single largest plague on our society since the actual bubonic plague, is the biggest culprit there, but once again, I digress.) And while people have always been nosy buggers, these new communication channels have made being intrusive much easier, yes? It’s easy to see all of the stains on that dirty laundry when nobody thinks twice before hanging it on the line.
I know this to be true, especially coming from a small town; we’re more on top of each other’s business than a roof is on a house. But being an intimate, close-knit community doesn’t make us immune to anything; it just makes us protect our own family’s downfalls with every fiber of our being. And I would argue that the charades of perfection make our feet of clay harder to accept. I see this most often when a neighbor falls victim to a heroin overdose – something that is often seen as a “city problem” but has become prevalent among young people in and around my rural northwest Ohio town.
But how does my normally uninhibited cohort react when we watch one of our own being lowered six feet under? Well, they take to social media to express their sorrow (and in one instance, post a group picture of unshaven guys in khaki shorts and snapbacks around the open casket of their friend – an overdose victim, also wearing a snapback), but the cause of death becomes the elephant in the room. We mourn the loss of a life that could have been saved if we would have taken a blunt, offensive approach to the problems that led to their death; the problems that our party-hard ways have all but encouraged to grow; the problems we still refuse to address seriously, even in the wake of each death.
Please don't take me as the killer of all college-aged fun; go out and have your fun in a reasonable capacity. But the death toll from overdoses, drunk driving, and effects of addictions will continue to climb higher until we as a generation – the generation, mind you, that has seen a 200 percent increase in heroin use yet has remained relatively silent on the matter – are as open about negative consequences of our trash-faced nights on Turnt Up Tuesdays as we are about the positive ones, because the mentality of personal immunity could be the start of your own downfall. So let’s get open. People are dying. Families are being ruined.
My family is ruined.
According to research from the University of Minnesota, as cited by the New York Times’ Beth McMurtrie, only 60 percent of campus security members nationwide make a consistent effort to enforce campus drinking policies.
Nevertheless, Tiffin University's latest annual campus safety, security, and fire safety report maintains that the institution allows alcohol use in residential halls only behind closed doors in rooms occupied by residents who are 21 years or older. Open containers are prohibited in any and all areas with underage students present, academic buildings, club meetings, and athletic practices and events. Possession, use, and/or sale of all illegal drugs are prohibited. Violations can be punished with warnings, fines, assignments, probation, suspension, and/or dismissal.
The document reports 292 alcohol-related and 72 drug-related violence were documented on campus during the 2014-2015 school year, with 170 total students being found responsible for their charges through the conduct evaluation process. In the last academic year, there were 134 alcohol-related and 31 drug-related cases were documented. A total of 92 students were found responsible.
The university offers wellness and counseling services at the Seneca House. Students in need of help regarding alcohol or drug abuse can make an appointment with Julie George, Director of Wellness and Counseling. She can be reached by telephone at 419-448-3578 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.