Alcohol is more than just a drink. It is a symbol.
To some it represents vice, freedom, an aspect of culture or a part of daily life. To others it may represent the cause of a deadly car accident.
“Everyone has a different story,” said Nanette Vega, assistant director of the William W. Sandler Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Education (formerly Pier 21). “It’s looking at individual history and what choices they’re making.”
Essa Al-Qattan, a junior, explained that drinking and possessing alcohol is illegal in his home country of Kuwait where the Islamic law is followed.
“Because I’m Muslim, we’re not allowed to drink at all,” he said. “It puts you in trouble and you may hurt others.”
Before coming to the United States, Al-Qattan saw alcohol consumed while traveling to Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and Australia..
“I’ve seen people drinking but I have never seen people drunk until I came to the States,” he said, adding that he probably would drink if he grew up in the U.S.
A 20-year-old sophomore in the School of Communications, whose name was withheld because he is underage, associates American culture with heavy drinking.
“I’ve traveled around the world where people don’t view alcohol as a big deal,” he said. He added that he believes the drinking laws in the U.S. are absurd and cause underage people to want to consume alcohol before turning 21. He said he has had drinks and gotten fined for being caught with alcohol.
Vega said there is a misconception that everyone drinks, adding that there is a large percentage of students nationwide who do not consume alcohol.
Citing a study conducted by Columbia University, Vega also said that 49 percent of full-time college students report they binge drink while the other 51 percent either drink responsibly or do not drink at all.
Michael Inza, a junior, avoids alcohol. He said his decision is not due to his Christian faith, but rather his dislike for the taste.
“It was the most disgusting thing I had ever tasted,” he said, referring to a time he tried liquor with his father. “Since then I have never desired to have another one.”
Inza said another reason he does not consume alcohol is because of the effect it had on his grandfather who became ill from drinking.
Malcolm Kahn, director of the UM Counseling Center, said that children who are allowed to try coffee and alcohol tend not to desire the beverages as adults.
Kahn also said that psychological behavior is “multi-determined.” Some students may have a genetic inclination to drink while others drink to fulfill a social expectation or to disinhibit themselves.
“When I first came [to UM], I was a shy guy,” Ahmad Al-Qallaf, a senior, said. “But then you explode.”
Al-Qallaf, one of Al-Qattan’s roommates, also grew up in Kuwait and has a Thai background. Quallaf emphasized that Kuwait and Thai cultures are conservative and do not promote alcohol consumption.
“I’m an alcoholic, but not in a bad way,” Al-Qallaf said. “It’s always fun when you’re just at that point.”
To Al-Qallaf, alcohol represents having fun and experiencing the college culture.
“I know what I am doing is wrong in my religion,” he said, “but it’s an experience I have to live.”
Natali Barski, on the other hand, is an 18-year-old Argentinean Jew who said the culture she grew up in involves heavy drinking. Her family, however, chooses not to drink.
“Everything in excess can kill you,” said Barski, who is a sophomore. She added that she traditionally has a glass of wine on Fridays and for other Jewish rituals and festivities.
Outside of her traditions, Barski does not drink, although she feels the college culture pressures incoming students to do so.
Knowing the limit
Vega said the largest group of students who violate alcohol policies are freshmen.
“If you’re going to drink alcohol, there are safe ways to do it,” Vega said. Before drinking, she recommends that students have food in their stomach, determine a safe place to stay and know their limit according to tolerance and weight.
“Everybody thinks they know the magic number of when to stop,” Maggie Aldousany, a junior, said. “I don’t think they do.” She added that she limits herself to occasionally drinking at social events.
Vega said males who consume more than four beers and females who consume more than three beers are putting themselves in the “danger zone.”
Vega also said approximately 1,400 people die as a result of an alcohol-related accident in the United States each year.
“I am not opposed to reasonable and sensible drinking,” Kahn said. “Some people find it convivial but that is not how some students drink.”
Students interested in calculating their tolerance level may contact the Sandler Center at 305-284-6120 or the Counseling Center at 305-284-5511. Anonymous communication may be done via email or through miami.edu/pier21.
Please visit TheMiamiHurricane.com to comment on the perceptions of drinking and why underage students do or not drink.
Walyce Almeida may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.