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Chapter 7 Alcohol and Other Drugs

Social Problems in the News

“Why Do College Students Love Getting Wasted?” the headline asked. Ohio University sociologist Thomas Vander Ven, author of a recent book on college drinking, was interviewed for this news story and had several answers to this question. First, drinking helps lessen college students’ anxieties about their courses, social relationships, and other matters. Second, it helps them have a good time and develop close friendships, including perhaps a romantic or sexual partner. Third, and perhaps most important, they drink because it’s fun. He also noted that when students get drunk, the other students who take care of them learn something about adult responsibility.

Vander Ven said that when students drink, “They’re more likely to say and do things that they normally wouldn’t do—show affection to their peers, get angry at them, get more emboldened to sing and dance and take risks and act crazy and there’s a ton of laughing that goes on. It creates this world of adventure. It creates war stories. It creates bonding rituals.” He added, “When things go wrong—the getting sick, the getting arrested, the getting upset—it gives them an opportunity to care for one another, to deliver social support. So you’ve got young adults who, for the first time, are taking care of a sick person, staying up all night with them, consoling them when they’re upset. It’s an opportunity for them to try on adult roles.”

Source: Rogers, 2011Rogers, T. (2011, August 28). Why do college students love getting wasted? Salon.com. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/life/education/?story=/mwt/feature/2011/2008/2028/college_drinking_interview.

This news story points to two central facts that are often forgotten in discussions about alcohol and other drugs. First, because of a combination of physiological, psychological, and social factors, drugs make us feel good. Second, because drugs make us feel good, many people want to use them, come hell or high water. To acknowledge these two basic facts is not meant to excuse the use of alcohol and other drugs, which cause serious individual and societal problems. But it is meant to indicate why the United States and other nations have found it so difficult to deal with drug use.

This difficulty in turn points to the need to understand why people use alcohol and other drugs, including the influence of our sociodemographic backgrounds on the likelihood of using them. This chapter examines these and other aspects of drug use before turning to the important issue of social and political policy regarding drug use.