The Drinking Calendar
Drinking takes place on campus every weekend, but there are times of the year when we expect to find more parties or more "celebratory behavior", and therefore more alcohol use. In addition, the temptation to drink changes based on the student's year in college. Freshmen, for example, are more likely to drink at the beginning of their first semester. A word from parents about family expectations or safety suggestions can provide a helpful reminder at the times of the year when drinking is most likely to occur.
During the first couple of weekends after school starts, students have less homework, and they're excited about being at school. New freshmen are looking for parties as a way to socialize and to experience the excitement of college life. Alcohol is part of what they expect, and they use alcohol as a way to relax and meet others more easily. Returning students are anxious to see their friends again, and parties focus around alcohol.
Homecoming and Halloween are excuses for throwing parties and for drinking to excess. Mid-terms are stressful, and the completion of an exam is reason to celebrate or "drown the misery."
Parties are common as students finish their classes and face unstructured "study days." The end of finals brings another round of celebration.
Drinking feels like "the only thing to do" on long, cold winter weekends.
Spring break takes drinking to new levels when students head for Southern beaches.
"For the collegiate subculture, Spring Break has become a major event on the calendar, more important than Homecoming Weekend, but less significant than a bowl game trip or a journey to the NCAA final four" (Sperber, 2000, p. 179).
It's important for parents to remember that students are aware of their personal limitations and are able to make good choices, even if it means avoiding certain activities.
Student: "I've gotten invitations to go to Spring Break. I'm like no I can't. I will end up in jail somewhere. I know myself and I know...I would not be able to control myself, that would be very bad."
The first warm weekend in spring brings out the wild side. The end of classes and end of exams are again cause for celebration.
Whenever it occurs, 21st birthdays can be cause for major and excessive celebrations. At many colleges and universities, there is a tradition of drinking 21 shots or 21 drinks on the 21st birthday, an excessive amount of alcohol that can be harmful or fatal. In some cases, groups of students will barhop from one establishment to another for any special offers available to new 21-year-olds.
Students can and do celebrate their 21st birthdays responsibly as well. Although it can be hard for students to tell their friends they want to pass up the big parties on their birthday, it can be easier to turn down a major binge by saying they are going out for dinner with a boyfriend or girlfriend or with just a couple of close friends or family.
Parent: "When my son started school, I didn't think alcohol would be an issue for him, but at the same time, I knew he would be in an environment where students would have alcohol. I think I worried most when he turned 21. We took him out to dinner that night, then he went out with his friends. I worried all night about him getting hit crossing the street or something. I think you can't wait until college to talk about alcohol. You have to start in high school."