“Chug, chug, chug, chug!”
If beer pong, the Plaza or Memory Mall on game day did not just come to mind, then you might not be a college student — or more specifically, a UCF college student.
To put it in perspective, what other university has a local bar dubbed The Library where students party all night and try to get away with creating the illusion that they are in fact at the campus library. This usually works for the first semester or so until parents start to catch on — nobody goes to the library every night of the weekend.
“I definitely do not drink as much as I did my freshman year,” senior interdisciplinary studies major Al Amodeo said. “Freshman year is the party year for me. After that, I settled down and focused more on my school work.”
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the first six weeks of freshman year are an especially risky time for heavy drinking and alcohol-related consequences. This is due to students’ expectations and social pressures at the start of the academic year.
A survey conducted by the UCF Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Program asked students who drink how often they use protective strategies. Use of a designated driver while drinking is reported by 88 percent of students. Seventy-seven percent of students aim to keep track of how much they drink. Sixty-four percent of student drinkers set a limit on how many drinks they plan to have before the night begins.
“Unfortunately only 22 percent reported they asked a friend to let them know if they had too much to drink,” said Thomas Hall, director of the prevention program.
In an effort to change this statistic, the program developed a new project that will start this fall to encourage friends to look out for each other if they plan on drinking. It has been created to help students avoid becoming the college binge-drinking stereotype.
“I think the bars around campus do make students look like the stereotype,” said Tiffany Eldridge, a sophomore nursing major. “I think the general public would take the promotions as an excuse for students to get wasted.”
The abundance of alcohol vendors that surround UCF advertise special discounts and other promotions.
“Orlando is unique; there are many more restaurants around our campus than at other state schools,” Hall said. “The ratio of bars [around campus] is low compared to restaurants, convenience stores, gas stations and grocery stores.”
The question is: When combined, do all of the above vendors have an impact on student drinking?
“I find it very convenient that the drive to obtain alcohol is never more than a mile drive no matter where you are around campus,” Amodeo said. “There is either a liquor store or gas station on every corner.”
A 1.3-mile drive from the Student Union will get students to the University Shoppes Plaza, located on the corner of Alafaya Trail and University Boulevard. The four-minute drive provides opportunities for students to purchase alcohol, including about 10 vendors in the plaza alone.
In contrast to many other Florida universities, UCF is surrounded by a variety of bars that allow entry to guests 18 years of age and older.
Underage patrons are marked with an X on their hand or given a wristband that differentiates them from the over-21 crowd so that they are easily recognized by security and bartenders.
“I, myself, find it harder to drink under the age of 21, but there are a couple of bars around UCF that let underage people get away with drinking,” junior legal studies major Daniela Araya said.
The community is responsible for setting age limits for local bars.
“I trust our community knows what is best,” Hall said.
Hall said community members at the University of Florida asked their local politicians to address bars that were taking advantage of students by selling alcohol to underage persons. An ordinance was developed that required patrons to be 21 and older to go to a bar in their community.
“You have to be 21 to drink but some people have fake IDs,” sophomore Kacie Vitro said. “It’s not an issue at all; it’s college.”
It probably is not news to anyone that there are many opportunities to drink around college campuses, including UCF. However, because UCF is not a dry campus, there are vendors and events that serve alcohol on campus as well.
“The vendors on campus are good examples of responsible hospitality,” Hall said. “I am more concerned about off-campus venues that advertise you can drink all night for next-to-nothing and reportedly don’t check IDs.”
The college student stereotype is that students drink excessively. However, the Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Program shows otherwise.
Interviews and surveys reveal that most students do not drink excessively. In fact, UCF students report they drink less than students at other public universities in the state.
“Local bars advertise drink specials that reinforce these Animal House or Hangover stereotypes,” Hall said. “If students who haven’t drank in the past come to college and think they are expected to drink as advertised, they sometimes have problems and get referred to our office.”
From a student’s point of view, Araya feels that UCF provides a safe environment for all students.
Despite the abundance of alcohol vendors on and off campus, UCF’s prevention program was identified by the U.S. Department of Education as an exemplary program. The program provides alcohol assessments and evaluations, as well as providing counselors who work with students who choose to drink and help them develop protective behaviors.
“The common theme I see is most students who drink do so responsibly, and many don’t drink at all,” Hall said.
Popularly encouraged by the Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Program is the Party Smart initiative. This initiative motivates students to use strategies such as designated drivers and alternating nonalcoholic drinks with alcoholic drinks.
For more personalized information, check out facebook.com/UCFHealthHut for monthly alcohol screenings hosted by the prevention program at different locations around campus. Students can also speak to a clinical provider to find out what type of drinker they are and how they can avoid risks and maintain responsible drinking habits. The quick one-on-one session is completely anonymous and open to all who would like to participate.