Chapter 10. Greeks, Women and Athletes... special concerns
Being a member of a fraternity on campus, I believe I have been exposed to more drugs and alcohol than a non-Greek.
Dave C., Massachusetts Institute of Technology junior
My girlfriend tries to keep up with me, but I guess she just can’t handle her booze.
Jack B., Daniel Webster College sophomore
Members of campus special interest organizations and other constituencies tend to be very protective of their group’s reputation. And, when it comes to alcohol problems on their campus, they like to blame the other campus groups for the difficulties. Residential Life blames the fraternities and sororities, the Greeks in turn blame the athletes, the athletes blame the alumni and, of course, everyone blames the first-year students. All groups experience some degree of difficulty regarding alcohol, some more than others.
Greek life has helped me with my self-esteem. Our community service not only helps other people, it helps us too.
Steve V., Keene State College senior
The Greeks are getting a lot smarter. They seem much more concerned. They provide alternative drinks. They provide escort service for those who need it. Granted they shouldn’t be over-serving, but at least they are making some improvements.
Melissa I., Keene State College junior
Membership in a fraternity or sorority provides many opportunities for leadership development, academic improvement, socialization, fun, community service and personal growth. Fraternities and sororities can also be the source of a large degree of high-risk activity. Presenting the following information is not meant as an attack nor a condemnation of Greek life. However, in revealing this information I hope to challenge and consequently motivate Greek organizations to confront the one issue that consistently sheds a negative light on Greek life – high-risk alcohol consumption. As identified by one leading college researcher, “If, from an alcohol risk point of view, the college campus is a dangerous place, then the fraternity houses are the Bermuda Triangle of the campus ocean.”47 “Fraternity or sorority members are significantly more likely than other college students to endorse less-than-responsible attitudes about alcohol.”48
A large national study of binge drinking found that sorority members were almost twice as likely to be binge drinkers compared with non-sorority women (62 percent compared with 35 percent). Among men, 75 percent of fraternity members were binge drinkers, whereas 45 percent of non-Greek male students reported binge drinking.49 It was also found that fraternity members drank more alcoholic beverages on a typical drinking day, engaged in heavy episodic drinking more frequently in the past 30 days, reported more lifetime marijuana use, and past 30 day marijuana use, more lifetime other drug use, and past 30 day other drug use than non-Greeks. Compared to non-Greek women, sorority women engaged in heavy episodic drinking more frequently, were more likely to be frequent smokers, reported more lifetime marijuana use, and marijuana use in the past 30 days, and more other drug use in their lifetime, and more other drug use in the past 30 days.50
This heavy and frequent drinking has a damaging impact on the health, safety and academic environment, not only for the binge drinkers but also for the entire fraternity or sorority. In yet another study, nearly half (45 percent) of fraternity residents and a fifth (19 percent) of sorority residents reported suffering five or more alcohol-related problems since the start of the school year. Only 17 percent of male and 11 percent of female students not involved in the Greek system had experienced as many problems. This study also revealed that 83 percent of fraternity residents and 78 percent of sorority residents reported having their studying or sleep interrupted in the previous year because of another person’s drinking, while less than half of men (42 percent) and women (38 percent) not involved in the Greek system reported the same negative experience with other people’s drinking.51
Finally, three times as many fraternity residents as non-member male students reported being pushed, hit or assaulted in the previous year by someone who was intoxicated (34 percent versus 13 percent). And twice as many sorority residents as non-member females reported being pushed, hit or assaulted.47
Researchers continue to question whether the Greek members self selected or were socialized into this heavier drinking. In other words, are Greeks heavier drinkers in high school and therefore choose to place themselves into this heavier drinking environment. Or, are members of Greek organizations influenced by their Greek peers and the environment to increase their drinking? The jury is still out on this question. Both seem to be contributing factors.
Regardless, if you are interested in membership in a Greek organization be sure to investigate its true character. If drinking alcohol is a primary focus of the organization, then your time spent with your new-found sisters or brothers will be wasted. Don’t join one simply because it has a reputation for great parties. Speak to other students and administrators about the group. Talk to alumni/ae about what the organization means to them now.
Be sure the members of the organization will accept you for who you are, not who they want you to be or how well you can handle your booze. If you are required to consume alcohol as a part of the membership process, I suggest you look for another organization. The group does not have your best interest in mind. It is estimated that ninety percent of fraternity and sorority hazing accidents that result in death are related to alcohol use.
Thankfully, now in the twenty-first century, national fraternities and sororities have taken a long hard look at the impact alcohol has had on the health, safety and success of their members. Alcohol has disappeared from the houses of many organizations. Many groups now require alcohol and other drug education and abuse prevention programs for their members. Effective party management guidelines have been implemented by many organizations. Yes, usually fueled by dangerous drinking, some rogue chapters of local and national fraternities and sororities continue to conduct themselves in a dangerous, sexist and racist manner. However most fraternities and sororities have made tremendous strides in taking action to minimize the impact alcohol has on its members, other students, the campus and the communities in which they reside.
Here’s why. First of all, women tend to be smaller than men. Also, women tend to have a different body fluid content and a larger proportion of fat content than men. As a result, drink for drink, women will have a higher concentration of alcohol in their bloodstream due to the different levels of fat and body fluids of men and women. Just as important however, is the difference in the way men and women metabolize alcohol. When the alcohol reaches the stomach it goes through what’s called first pass metabolism. A small quantity of the alcohol is metabolized in the stomach even before it reaches the bloodstream through the small intestine. This first pass metabolism occurs due to the presence of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). Women have less ADH than men. There is some evidence that this decreased level of ADH may result in women absorbing almost one third more alcohol than men from each drink. No wonder women seem to be unable to handle alcohol like men. (Of course this is not the case for women who have developed increased tolerance to alcohol due to continued high-risk alcohol consumption.) An additional complicating factor is that women, more so than men, tend to drink wine coolers and alcopops, which as was indicated previously often contain more alcohol than beer.
There are long-term consequences for women as well. Women become addicted sooner, they develop alcohol-related problems earlier and they die younger compared to men with similar drinking patterns.59But some women seem to be determined to be as ignorant as some men when it comes to alcohol consumption. The onset of alcohol consumption by women is occurring earlier. Women are also drinking more alcohol. More than one third of college women reported drinking for the sole purpose of getting drunk in 1993, more than triple the 10 percent in 1977. And research in 2007 found that college women may be drinking to excess to impress their male counterparts on campuses across the country. Interestingly, this study also suggests most college men are not looking for a woman to match them drink for drink. A survey of 3,616 college students at two American universities found an overwhelming majority of women overestimated the amount of alcohol a typical guy would like his female friends, dates or girlfriends to drink.52 “Traditionally, men drink more than women, but research has shown that women have steadily been drinking more and more over the last several decades," said the study's lead author, Joseph LaBrie, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University. "Our research suggests women believe men find excessive drinking sexually attractive and appealing, but it appears this is a giant misperception." This overall shift in attitude by women is extremely risky since we know that women develop liver disease in a shorter period of time and at lower levels of consumption than men. Additionally, research indicates that a woman’s risk for a fatal car crash is twice that of a man’s when her blood alcohol level is between .05 percent and .14 percent.
Here are two other factors women need to consider if they choose to drink. Premenstrual hormonal changes can cause intoxication to set in faster during the days just before a woman gets her period. Also, some birth control pills or medication with estrogen can increase the level of intoxication for a woman who is drinking. So, if you fall into one or both of these two categories, be extra careful about your alcohol decisions.
Compared to thirty years ago, women’s roles in society have expanded dramatically. There are more opportunities for work, for leadership and for equal pay for equal work. I am not saying it is equal, but there has been a great deal of progress in reaching equality. However, one thing a woman will never be able to do is “drink like a man.” Nor, for that matter, will a man ever be able to drink like a woman. Males and females react to alcohol a bit differently.
Be that as it may, life as a student athlete is intense. Students who are not involved in athletics probably don’t understand how demanding the daily schedule can be for athletes. Training; the need to be competitive and to perform consistently; the stress of maintaining academics and fearing the results if they slip; travel, daily practice, fatigue, rescheduling classes. Time is hard to find. Partying and just hanging out are luxuries athletes can’t afford, and “catching up” is an ongoing process.
There is, in addition, the stress that comes with the spotlight, the expectation to perform. Athletes are often on display, pushed by coaches, parents and fans to achieve perfection. People applaud when they win and criticize them mercilessly when they fail. In addition to striving to excel athletically, academically, and socially, athletes may experience stress due to isolated living conditions in athletic residence halls and long hours spent practicing, training, and traveling. Sometimes the stress builds up. And like a lot of students, athletes find it easier to relieve that stress and to forget about things when they use alcohol or other drugs. Even though they may know they can’t be at their best when “under the influence,” they take chances. It doesn’t matter if you are in the greatest shape of your life, alcohol and other drugs affect an athlete the same way they affect non-athletes.54
Research conducted by The College of William and Mary provides insight into some of the deleterious effects alcohol can have on athletic performance:
Evidence is mounting that even moderate drinking results in a loss of motor coordination 12 to 18 hours after consumption. Depleted aerobic capacity can last as long as 48 hours after use – many hours after alcohol can no longer be detected in the blood.
Regular metabolic processes in the liver are interrupted while alcohol is being metabolized. The liver is primarily a producer of glycogen, a basic body fuel. Alcohol metabolism interrupts glycogen production, leading to the depletion of natural glycogen reserves. Thus, alcohol metabolism depletes the body of its natural fuel.
This glycogen depletion leads directly to an early onset of muscle fatigue during athletic performance. Additionally, without a sufficient glycogen supply, the muscle tissue does not have the energy necessary for cell repair following strenuous exercise.
Alcohol ingestion and metabolism inhibit functions of the skeletal musculature. Chronic alcohol use causes a progressive weakening of the muscles, both cardiac and skeletal.
Adverse effects of alcohol use that have been seen to last up to 48 hours also include:
impaired reaction time, balance and eye-hand coordination
distorted perception, affecting accuracy
impaired fine motor and gross motor coordination
decrease in strength
increased fatigue and decreased aerobic capacity
difficulty regulating body temperature.55
Athletes who cannot handle stress sometimes end up binge drinking, picking a night to “go crazy” with alcohol or other drugs. Using alcohol to relieve stress usually results in some trouble, little enjoyment, and more stress. Alcohol causes you to lose good judgment, and athletes sometimes overestimate their abilities, doing dangerous stunts or taking unnecessary chances. Athletes need to remember that if they injure themselves at a party because they were drunk, it is still an injury. If they commit a crime while under the influence, it is still a crime. As an athlete, work hard to manage your time and balance your academic, athletic and personal obligations. When you feel stress building up, look for healthy ways to relax. For some people, that means spending time with supportive friends. For others it is a good workout, extra sleep, time with family, or religion. Whatever it is, work it into your schedule before you get stressed out.56
He used to be such a quiet guy. Now his anger is out of control!
Bob B., Queens College senior
Although steroids do not fall into the category of psychoactive drugs like alcohol or other drugs, I think it’s important to add a brief note about them. The pursuit of excellence at any cost sometimes makes steroid use seem attractive. Steroids will contribute to increased muscle strength and bulk, but there is usually a serious price to pay for these benefits. I believe the negative side effects far outweigh any benefits gained by using steroids. The psychological and physical risks include:
depression and/or aggression;
if needles are used for injection, sharing needles could lead to HIV or other infections;
for young men, testicular shrinkage, acne, and loss of hair;
for young women, irregular menstrual cycle, facial hair, lower voice;
damage to the growth area of the bones resulting in a permanent stunting of growth;
weakening of tendons resulting in tearing and rupture.
There is one other concern with steroid use. An athlete with a positive result from a drug test for steroids will face possible suspension or dismissal from his/her respective team. Here are a few guidelines that may help you maintain your mental and physical health while performing at an optimal level:
develop an effective time management plan for balancing studies, practice, work and social time;
maintain a healthy diet;
take advantage of campus support services;
sleep whenever possible;
attend classes regularly;
practice healthy stress reduction exercises such as meditation or prayer;
socialize with your non-athlete peers as well as teammates;
take extra special care when making decisions about alcohol or other drug use.
We drink during the week but never the night before a game. We want to be ready.
The connection between beer and athletics is longstanding. It dates back to a period when beer was perceived as, and consumed for, refreshment more than for intoxication. A 1909 ad for Budweiser, under the headline “Ball Players Use Beer in Training” quoted C.H. Ebbets, president of the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers (later the Brooklyn Dodgers and still later the Los Angeles Dodgers), describing the ideal meal for his team: “We would request a simple dinner with light beer, as that is our idea of a proper drink for athletes in training.”61 And yet, in Austria, laws prohibit all public references at sporting events to alcoholic beverages. In a country that brews some of the most beautiful beer in the world, the very idea of a brewery involved with sports is considered appalling. “We would never think of it,” huffs Dr. Klaus Leistner, director of the Austrian Ski Federation. “Sports and alcohol should never be placed together.”53