Blacking Out Stress

A college student explains why college students are drinking to blackout. It’s the stress, particularly at the small, elite colleges.

But there’s something else in the mix, something that pushes them from casual drinking to binge drinking to blackout.

I think it’s the stress. It permeates everything we do as college students. Many small, elite colleges are insanely competitive to get into in the first place and they remain competitive as students try to outdo one another with grades, scholarships, extracurricular activities and internships. Having been one of those hypercompetitive students, I can tell you that it never feels like enough. The person sitting next to you in class is always doing more and doing it better. I became obsessed with stacking my resume, even more so than I was in high school. I saw it as a reflection of whether I would succeed in life. And I’m not alone. The obsession seems largely driven by fear — fear of a crumbling job market, of not meeting parents’ expectations, of crippling loan debt.

14 thoughts on “Blacking Out Stress

  1. I’m not sure I buy this. There was plenty of deliberate drinking to black out when I was in college. It didn’t seem to be the highly driven kids so much as it was a good indicator of who was likely to flunk out. I knew a guy who would donate blood on Friday to save money (less blood means less alcohol to get the same BAC).


  2. MH said:

    “I’m not sure I buy this. There was plenty of deliberate drinking to black out when I was in college. It didn’t seem to be the highly driven kids so much as it was a good indicator of who was likely to flunk out.”

    Yeah. As I was asking previously–if binge drinking is an elite college stress release thing, then why do kids at big dumb state party schools do it, too?


  3. I’d say that there are both reasons — that people who argue that it is a problem only at the party schools are missing another version of the same problem (drinking to black out, self-medication, . . .).


  4. I agree with MH & Amy P. My first reaction is that this is a mental script this writer has learned to garner pity from adults: “Oh poor me, the honors student.”

    (I blame menopause for my inclination to no longer be all too nurturing of self-congratulatory, self-serving nonsense. It amuses my children no end.)

    I’ll write more later, as I have to rush off, but it’s more likely to be budding alcoholism if it happens more than once. There are a lot of people with the risk factors to be alcoholics. Participating in an alcohol-based party scene, mostly out of the control of the adults (because the adults face legal consequences, were they to be involved), is one way to discover that surprise!! You won the family booby prize of being this generation’s alcoholic. Or tea-totaler, your choice.


  5. cranberry,


    If you’re drinking to cope with life…that’s alcoholism.

    “There are a lot of people with the risk factors to be alcoholics.”


    And the risk might be invisible to the college student himself if his parents are both functional, non-alcoholic people.


  6. I was at a large state university that would send a portion of its graduates to prestigious graduate programs. Guess who got in? (Hint, it was not the heavy drinkers or, really, when you get right down to it, people who drank at all.) I can’t speak to what happens at the super-selective colleges, but I’m pretty certain that not everyone there gets into a prestigious graduate program. So call me skeptical as well. Someone somewhere is staying sober.


    1. I was in a prestigious graduate program. Nobody didn’t drink that I’m aware of (faculty or student) and a substantial minority were heavy drinkers, though black-out drinking wasn’t something I saw.


  7. University students and employees not drinking is something that I associate with people from Asia or Muslims (and the Muslims are only slightly better at not drinking that the Baptists that I used to see before I spent all my time at universities). Though I’m lead to understand that drinking too much is a thing in Asia.


  8. MH: your mileage has varied from mine. At my large state university, in 1980s, I would estimate that one third of the students never drank, and another third drank moderately, at most. It was the remaining third that gave the school its Playboy-list party reputation.


  9. Heavy, abusive drinking has been characteristic of university students since the 14th century. It is also characteristic of other groups which contain large numbers of young people without family responsibilities (fill in the blank: “_______ sailor”). I don’t think it signifies anything very significant about either the socio-economic situation or the future prospects of the young people involved.

    There may be cultures through time and space that manage to suppress this tendency, just as there are cultures that manage to suppress sexual activity among people 15 to 25, but most cultures tend to indulge these tendencies within very permissive limits.


    1. “I’m stressed” is an excuse, not an explanation for the behavior. It isn’t new or unusual for students to drink heavily. As Cranberry notes, this particular student is engaging in rationalization s/he expects to garner sympathy.


  10. On reflection, how to hold my liquor and algebra were the two things I learned in high school that I use most in real life. Not that I really learned either very well back then. Just a foundation I could build on.


  11. Stressing away again in Margaritaville,
    searching for my lost shaker of salt.
    Some people claim that there’s a GRE to blame,
    But I know it’s nobody’s fault.


  12. From the link:
    “There is also a tacit understanding that blacking out works as a kind of “get out of jail free card.” A person can say or do any number of hurtful or embarrassing things and be granted immunity with the simple excuse that they were “blackout” that night. People accept this with no question. Blacking out therefore becomes a way to avoid responsibility. Of course, this mentality backfires with issues such as sexual assault when people are held accountable for their actions.”

    Despite the earlier quote that Laura shows, I think this is as much the writer’s thesis as anything else. My overall impression from the link is very different than what I took from the part Laura quoted. My fault for not reading the link and getting the context.


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