Party Culture: The Dark Side of College Partying

Noelle Walker

The Scene: 10 o’clock on a Friday night. $5 for guys, free for girls. Throngs of people fill in a small, empty living room area. Dancing to the pulsating beat of the music. People drink out of red, plastic cups, reveling in the “all you can drink alcohol.” If you’re lucky, there’ll be something other than hunch punch. More and more people come and fill in the room, it gets ten degrees hotter, but people drink and dance and drink until you don’t notice it anymore. 

This seems to be party culture at colleges today. In the last five years, the university has on record a total of 1,054 social events by fraternities and 625 social events by sororities from Summer 2014 to Spring 2019. 

What is Party Culture? 

Culture is defined as the “ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society,” according to the Oxford English dictionary.  

Party culture would follow this definition, except it would involve the social group of people who attend parties. 

“Unfortunately I feel as if party culture challenges you to push your limits as well because you want to see how much fun you can have, how much you can drink with your friends, and a lot of it is sponsored by peer pressure,” said University Wellness Intern at Georgia Southern University Lauren Kiskunes. 

Party Culture at Georgia Southern

“Here at Georgia Southern, we are known as a party school, which drives me crazy because every school is a ‘party school,’ but, you know, you become 21 and you want to drink and that’s okay … but I feel like, unfortunately here and I don’t know if this is everywhere but if you don’t go out and drink or you don’t smoke or something that people look at you differently, or are like ‘you’re a goody two shoes,’ and that’s not necessarily the case,” said Kiskunes.

Kiskunes said one of the main activities the town offers is going to the bar, and eating and drinking together with friends. She said football season and also the stress of college is a contributor.

University Wellness Ambassador Keisha Lockhart said she thinks party culture includes drinking, drugs sometimes and going to kickbacks and clubs, such as the Blue Room

Alcoholism/Substance Abuse and Party Culture

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that “almost 60 percent  of college students ages 18–22 drank alcohol in the past month, and almost 2 out of 3 of them engaged in binge drinking during that same time frame.”

“About 20 percent of college students meet the requirement for Alcohol Use Disorder,” which is “is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using,” according to the The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 

“I feel like alcohol is the basis,” Kiskunes said. “Most people consume alcohol before they try drugs or other things. Whether it’s wine or whiskey, it all has the same effect eventually. I would say alcohol is the main culprit, now whether you choose to look at that negatively or positively is your choice in this situation … pretty much everyone drinks regardless of whether it’s legal or not.”

Brooks said what people expect college to be and what they think their peers are doing is also very important. 

Lockhart said she thinks that, part of the college experience, is that people expect you to do these types of things.

She said she feels that alcohol is easier to get to compared to drugs like weed and adderall. 

“Unfortunately, if you hear someone say they dont drink, it’s weird in today’s culture … it’s really just a common activity,” said Kiskunes.

Lockhart said sometimes people can be addicted and use alcohol or substances as a coping mechanism, and she said she’s heard a lot of people say substances such as weed or adderall allow them to escape from reality. 

“I’ve heard a lot of people say substances like weed, adderall, or whatnot allows them to escape from reality,” said Lockhart. 

How does party culture impact alcoholism and substance abuse?

Jessica Brooks is an assistant professor of clinical and counseling psychology. She has a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Georgia, master’s degree in clinical psychology from North Dakota State University and her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota Duluth. Most of her research focuses on alcoholism and alcohol use behaviors. 

Brooks said heavy drinking in college may just be a phase of life for some students, but for others, it could become a diagnosable addiction.

On whether party culture leads to addiction, Brooks said the answer for some people is yes. She said there are a few factors that can lead someone to become addicted to alcohol, like people who use it to cope with negative emotions or to enhance already existing positive emotions.

“Those tend to be individuals more susceptible to long-term problems and heavier drinking in general because they are using it to manipulate their feelings versus people just who do it for more social reasons,” Brooks said.

Brooks said that people who use alcohol for socially motivated reasons have less of a likelihood of having problems. 

Other contributing factors are people who like to take risks because they are more impulsive and more prone to sensation seeking, which tends to be strongly linked with addiction, Brooks said. 

“There might be some genetic vulnerabilities underlining that,” Brooks also said. “Biologically, there’s vulnerabilities for some people to develop a substance use problem if they’ve had someone in their immediate family become addicted to something,” Brooks said. 

Trauma that may happen in a person’s environment and environmental stressors may encourage someone to seek out substance use, Brooks said. 

“Now there’s a difference between substance use and abuse,” said Kiskunes “If you’re using Adderall to study, and you’re prescribed that, well there’s not an issue with that, that is substance use but not in the negative sense.”

Kiskunes said some students might be spending money they may not have on drugs, facing addiction, getting criminal charges and getting kicked out of school.  

“It unfortunately opens up a lot of windows to a lot of negatives and cons rather than pros,” said Kiskunes.

Brooks said that, often, people are not going to think they’ll develop a problem. 

“Oftentimes, it’s a person who’s curious and open to those new experiences that tries it and might get hooked,” Brooks said. “Depending on the drug, it might happen fast.” 

She used the example of methamphetamine, talking about the campaigns where they say something along the lines of, “Don’t even try it once, not even once,” because it’s really addictive. 

So the physical properties of a drug can really shape a person’s need for it, Brooks explained. 

“The way that we define addiction is both the physical dependency that a person displays, and also the psychological dependency that a person might have for a substance that they need in order to function both physically and mentally and in the presence of not using the substance anymore,” Brooks said. 

She explained that there are dependency and withdrawal symptoms, and it differs based on the substance. 

“The way that a person becomes addicted depends on the person and then also factoring that in with the type of drug they use,” Brooks said. “In the work that I do, alcohol research, it develops a little slower sometimes just because of the way that the drug works and so a person may just use problematically for awhile, and that may come in the form of periodic binge drinking episodes, and then, slowly over time, it becomes their habit or their go-to way to cope with things.”

Brooks continued, saying that slowly but surely a person may think that is the most effective in the moment, and so all other types of habits kind of give way to that, and so their responses to things around them is so narrow that substance abuse becomes the one thing that they do to deal with things. 

Addiction has many different pathways to get there, Brooks said, “but the things that we look for are dependency on the substance, negative consequences of their use—is it impairing their functioning in work, school, their social lives—and then also do they have problems stopping use? And if they do, do they have withdrawal symptoms, and that’s how we determine if someone is addicted and to what level they are addicted.” 

Brooks said she doesn’t know if party culture causes misuse of substances, but she believes there’s a correlation with it. 

“I feel like in today’s world, drugs and substance abuse is a part of the culture, even if it’s not party culture, even if it’s you’re taking your friend’s adderall to study for a test,” said Kiskunes.

The sociology of addiction

Brooks said the norms of thinking of party culture that “perhaps you conjure up ideas of that it’s okay to drink, it’s almost expected to drink, but when you survey students, actually more people don’t engage in party culture than the people that do.”

Brooks said that not everyone in participating in party culture when you survey people.

“But when you have someone who buys into the myth of the party culture, thinks it’s okay because that’s what you expect out of college, they’re going to end up inadvertently surrounding themselves by people who have the same mindset,” Brooks said.

Brooks explained, saying everyone they know is doing it, but not necessarily everyone is, just the people they surround themselves with.  

“So I guess in that way it’s correlated because the people who buy into that might be predisposed to gravitate into that anyway,” Brooks said. “But party culture certainly doesn’t help.” 

Kiskunes said that you’re surrounded by people on Social Media that are partying, and, whether or not you do like to party, it can give you a fear of missing out.

She said there is still almost this mindset that ‘yeah, this won’t happen to me … I’m not going to develop a problem’. That mindset can also play in developmentally where people’s heads are at combined with sensation seeking and risk taking behaviors and seeking immediate gratification to manipulate a mood of some kind of creates this … a mixture for dangerous behavior.” 

Party Culture and its Effects on School

Brooks said she has worked at a number of university counseling centers providing therapy, she finds that party culture, when it becomes one of the focal points of a student’s life, can negatively impact a student’s mental health, physical health and ability to stay on track academically.

Lockhart and Kiskunes both said partying can take away from academics. 

About 25 percent of college students reported having academic consequences due to drinking, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 

Kiskunes said partying can distract you and take away your time. 

“It’s not just that one night, it’s the next day,” said Kiskunes. “If you drink to [an] excess and it made you sick and you’re hungover the next day.”

Title IX Reports that have occurred on Olympic Blvd, according to a Freedom of Information Act filed to Georgia Southern’s record office.

Party Culture and Rape Culture

“About 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 reported experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape,” according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 

Brooks said she doesn’t know if rape culture stems from party culture—that it would be too strong to say—but she said that it does not help.

“I’ve had a number of clients really struggle with their decision to drink as much as they did, and they wound up being sexually assaulted,” Brooks said. “And so there’s this sense of responsibility that they did this to themselves, that they asked for it … and it doesn’t matter how drunk or high you are, you don’t ask to be sexually assaulted. And so I think that those myths around being responsible while under the influence can be really problematic.” 

Brooks said she thinks, systematically, rape culture in general is much bigger. 

Brooks said that, If you’re thinking about college-age students and party culture, “it’s still a time of development in emerging adulthood where there’s a lot of kind of finding your own way and so sometimes decisions are not fully thought through.” 

“I think it does contribute in a sense that it gives people a false sense of acceptance or consent,” said Kiskunes. ““When you’re drinking you’re not aware of your surrounding as much. If you don’t stay in groups or watch your drink then unfortunately things happen as well.”

Positive Effects of Party Culture

“I feel like party culture invites everyone, it is a chance to relieve stress and let loose whether you are drinking or not,” said Kiskunes. “It typically involves some type of dancing, which is fun too, express yourself … and it also gives you a chance to hang out with your friends and meet new people so you develop social skills.” 

Kiskunes said that it can also help develop the economy, such as providing jobs for bartenders and bouncers. 

Student Opinions: Pros and Cons of Partying

Brandon Derricho, third year computer science major, said some positive aspects include outreach.

“A lot of people on campus or in college in general tend to find more friends when they don’t normally associate with when they go to parties and such,” Derricho said.

Derricho said a negative effect is peer pressure. 

“Sometimes, people can get roped into something that they don’t necessarily want to do just by the right variables being in place,” Derricho said. 

Imani Thomas, senior biology and Spanish major, said some negative impacts include damage to the liver and brain and impaired motor and judgement skills, while positive effects may include developed social skills. .

Sydney Hensel, sophomore early childhood development and special education major, said positive effects include hanging out with friends and having a good time, while negative effects include being tired all the time and hangovers. 

Caroline Stiles, sophomore early childhood development and special education major, said a negative effect could be less motivation for school. 

Ashley Avila, sophomore pre-med, said she’s not really a partier, but her brother prefers to party.

Avila said, “He just prefers to do that rather than like a test because a party’s going to happen once so he, I guess, just temptation and he just goes and the next day he pays the consequences.”

This article was previously published in the print Spring 2019 edition of The George-Anne Reflector.