Nov. 16, 2012
Bon Jovis 19-year-old daughter made the headlines Wednesday because of her hospitalization after overdosing on heroin at her upstate New York college. Stephanies incident serves as a public face for close to half of the nations full-time college students that abuse drugs or drink alcohol on binges at least once a month.
Where do these habits come from? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that regarding drinking, many students come to college with established drinking habits and the college environment simply exacerbates the problem.
Thomas Vander Ven, associate professor of sociology at Ohio University, author of Getting Wasted, (a book exploring the topic of college drinking) suggested in an interview that some of the why of college drinking can be contributed to
the structural position that these young people are in. Theyre 18- to 22-year-olds. Theyre away from the supervision of their parents, many of them for the first time, and thats an important time in life to search for identity. And for my informants alcohol was a vehicle for hooking up and meeting people and having romantic and sexual interactions. Its sort of a perfect storm to produce this high-risk behavior.
While prior drinking habits and the absence of parents certainly explains some of the motivation behind the college drinking and drug use, it cant be the whole story when we also have data from the National Center on Addiction and Substance abuse that shows about 17 percent of American high school students are also drinking, smoking or using drugs. Where do the habits come from at that age?
Vander Ven suggests that the way to remediate the college drinking culture is to educate and train students to be better bystanders, because the bystanders will know when something is wrong. But if that is the best solution this author and professor can come up with, then the battle against college drinking is doomed to failure.
No amount of better bystanders will instill the necessary virtue into individuals that enables them to make confident decisions and stand up to any societal pressure. This is a kind of moral courage that comes from formation that happens, among other places, in the family.
Research from the Marriage and Religion Research Institute shows that while only 8 percent of youth who come from intact married families and attend church each week are likely to use tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana as a minor, this number increases to 18 percent among youth who do not live in an intact married family and never attend church. This effect holds into adulthood as well, for only 24.7 percent of adults in always intact marriages who attend religious services weekly drink too much alcohol, compared to 52.1 percent of adults who do not attend church and are not in an intact marriage.
While the life and formation of each person is far from formulaic, there is much to be said for the protective nature of the family, and the wisdom of Proverbs which admonishes that we Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.