“It’s not that students are drinking today and they didn’t drink yesterday, it’s how much and how they’re drinking,” Sauls said.
Several universities, such as the University of Maryland and West Virginia University, have recently begun selling alcohol to the general public at football and basketball games. Supporters of Maryland’s decision say serving alcohol could combat binge drinking on game days.
In February, Provost Jim Dean and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp at UNC to address what Sauls considers one of the biggest issues he deals with.
“Often students are drinking for the single purpose of blacking out or getting hammered and that is highly dangerous,” Sauls said. “You don’t know which drink is going to put you over the edge.”
The binge drinking task force at UNC is looking at this issue through a public health lens — considering everything from prevention and education to intervention, accountability, treatment and recovery, he said.
Sauls said the task force has not yet looked at selling alcohol at sporting events as a way of combatting binge drinking — the task force hopes to consider all components of the culture of drinking on campus before they make any recommendations.
“As far as the six home football games there are a year — in terms of that making much of a dent in the broad-based campus alcohol culture, that’s only one piece,” Sauls said.
Nick Hadley, a physics professor and chairperson of the Athletic Council at Maryland, said he supported the measure to sell alcohol at the school’s football and basketball games.
“I think it may have a slight positive effect for some of the students,” Hadley said. “One hope is that some people will be responsible and think, ‘Oh, I can have a beer at the game so I won’t have five in the parking lot before.’”
But Leslie Morrow, associate director at UNC’s Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, said this decision does more to promote the culture of drinking than to moderate it.
“It would be very difficult to serve alcohol safely to such a big crowd of people and to ensure that you’re not giving alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated, which is illegal,” Morrow said.
Researchers at the Bowles Center are studying the unique effects of alcohol on the brains of adolescents and young adults.
“It is important to recognize that developing brains react to alcohol differently than adult brains,” Morrow said. “It has been proven that heavy drinking as an adolescent leads to heightened anxiety, depression, cognitive problems and impulsive behavior in adulthood.”
Morrow’s lab studies the molecular changes in the brain after ethanol is administered to rats and mice, and their dependence on ethanol once it is withdrawn.
“We can give an animal alcohol as an adolescent and wait until they are an adult to test them, and we see impairment that we don’t see if the same amount of alcohol was given to an adult and tested a month later,” Morrow said.
Sauls said even though people pay attention to certain high-profile incidents involving alcohol, there are lots of things people are not exposed to.
“On any given weekend, we have students that are transported to the hospital because of consumption,” Sauls said.
Sauls said more often than not, alcohol is at the root of issues such as vandalism of property or physical and sexual assault.
“We have to be able to tackle some of the faulty reasoning such as everyone at Carolina drinks or that I have to do it now because I have to get serious when I graduate,” Sauls said.
“All of that faulty reasoning turns out to be conditional responses that we train ourselves to have so we don’t have to confront the reality of a poor decision.”