“I shat neon green s**t the next day,” Jessica Conlon said of the American beverage Four Loko. “I never want to drink them again.”
Stony Brook University is not just a school known for its hard sciences. It is a temporary home for many students from around the world, filled with new types of alcohol, fraternity life and day-long binge drinking.
“First year of uni everyone goes crazy anyway,” Conlon said about her college back home in England.
For British students, the first year is solely dedicated to having fun. This is where students learn their limits.
“We only have to pass the first year with a 40 percent [grade],” Rebecca Mackley, a student from England, said.
Students abroad have the opportunity to drink with less worry because the drinking age is younger.
“The drinking age [in Australia] is 18, so people will usually start experimenting around 16,” Ashleigh Janssen, a student from Australia, said. “I actually think having a drinking age of 18 is a lot better, it means people don’t have to sneak around to hide it, people will drink at 18 anyway and having it legal makes it safer because people aren’t scared of getting into trouble if something goes wrong.”
Although media often portrays American drinking as more intense than that in other parts of the world, a study done by The European School Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) states otherwise. The study shows that 15- to 16-year-olds in the United States drink a moderate amount compared to the European countries studied.
The report compared the percentage of teenagers who had been drunk both at least three times and 10 times in the last 30 days. In both comparisons, the United States does not come close to countries like Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
“There’s a lot less casual drinking than I expected, like going to the bar for a few drinks and a chat,” Tom Barclay, a student from England, said. “It is more drinking to get drunk mindset.”
The factor that differentiates American drinking is not just how much people drink, but what drinking represents.
Sociologist Paul Roman, Ph.D. at the University of Georgia, said that Americans treat their drinking like work. The former British colonies have fairly similar issues related to drinking and their histories are similar. Yet the United States has a culture of denial that can be problematic in many ways. Alcohol is considered extremely taboo in the United States, according to Roman.
“For example in any Latin culture which would include Brazil or South American countries, or Spanish, Italian, Greek, French, they’re not as afraid of alcohol as we are,” Roman said.
Another attribute of U.S. drinking culture is how Americans treat work and leisure. Holding our liquor and not showing its effects has become a very positive trait. In other cultures, people just let the drug run its course. Thus, drinking has become a job in which Americans try their best to maintain their composure instead of just letting themselves be drunk. This denial of effects is what makes people drink more than they should have.
“We have a severe temperance culture,” Roman said. “We don’t enjoy our leisure very much; we have to justify our leisure.”
In the United States, people speak of their leisure the way they speak of travel, Roman said. They’ll talk about the number of places or the amount of museums they went to whereas in other cultures, particularly European, the working class takes off a month from work to enjoy their vacation.
“We’re an anti-pleasure society in terms of the ratio of pleasure that we engage in versus the work we accomplish,” Roman said.
More specifically, college students who often epitomize American drinking culture are considerably some of the most privileged people in the world in terms of the freedom they have to party, Roman said.
These students also agreed that drunk driving seems to be of less importance in the U.S. than it is back at their respective homelands.
“Americans are more likely to drive so our teenagers are at a greater risk of drinking and driving,” Robert Saltz Ph.D, a senior research scientist at the Prevention Research Center, said.
To these students, the seriousness of drinking among Americans is a paradox. In the U.S., drunk driving is seen as less of an issue, but foreign students have also felt that Americans sometimes exaggerate the gravity of drunkenness.
“It’s as though [Americans] think [drunk driving] is okay, whereas in Australia it is seriously, seriously frowned upon,” Janssen said.
When Mackley and Conlon’s friend was coming back from The Bench, a Stony Brook sports bar, the police took her to the hospital, wrote her up and took her to counseling. The counselors told her she had a problem with alcohol, whereas in England, the police would just take their friend back to her room.
This seriousness is also evident when they play drinking games at a party or at a pre-game get together. Mackley said that Americans are more competitive over games meant to get you tipsy than her British friends back home.
“Just drink,” Mackley said.