UTPD, UHS respond to underage drinking

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Underage drinking has historically been a problem on college campuses according to national data, but it is not an overwhelming problem at UT as a whole, although some individual instances are severe, UTPD Officer William Pieper said. 

According to data from UTPD, roughly 23 consumption of alcohol violations have occurred on campus this year so far. In past years, UTPD has generally reported more than 90 violations per year, with the exception of 70 violations in 2014. Pieper said he is unsure about the reason behind fewer violations that year. 

“The impacts of alcohol can be so severe, and it’s hard to get young people to think about it before they go out,” Pieper said.

About one in four college students face academic problems because of alcohol consumption, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Fatal Vision, a preventive program led by UTPD officers, encourages students to take safety precautions while drinking and helps them understand the effects of alcohol through impairment goggles, which mimic intoxication.

Jessica Wagner, manager of health promotion for University Health Services, said other programs that help counteract the negative effects of underage drinking include an online alcohol education program required for all incoming students who are under the legal drinking age. UHS also offers Know Your Line, an initiative that aims to discourage excessive drinking and normalize the fact that most students who choose to drink follow the standard of moderation — 4 drinks or fewer per occasion, according to the UHS website.

“All of the alcohol-related programs and initiatives that we do acknowledge that students come to campus with varying levels of experience and knowledge,” Wagner said. “Some students come to campus having never drank. Some students come to campus having drank in high school, so we need to make sure we cater to all of those students’ needs.”

Pieper said while the act of drinking alcohol usually does not occur on campus, signs such as an odor of alcohol on their breath, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes or admission of alcohol consumption help officers identify students who have been drinking when they arrive back at their residence halls.

When police find underage students on campus after they have consumed alcohol, it almost always results in a citation, Pieper said. However, in cases when students seem to be a danger to themselves or others, Pieper said they could be arrested, turned over to the care of a sober adult or transferred to the hospital if medical attention is needed.

Wagner said students’ perceptions of how much others drink or what drinking in college is supposed to be like dictates a student’s own personal drinking behavior.

English and Plan II senior David Engleman said he thinks students should create a supportive drinking environment for one another and intervene if they are worried about their friends.

“As someone who didn’t drink until he was 21, I was very fortunate to have friends who did not make me feel ostracized for choosing not to drink. But I know that isn’t the experience of all students,” Engleman said. “The only way to change that is for students to be more accepting of people who abstain from drinking and to refrain from pressuring those who do drink to drink in an unhealthy way.”