Op-Ed: Time to stop the alcohol nonsense

This weekend, a Stanford undergraduate was brought to the emergency room at Stanford Hospital with a blood-alcohol level (BAC) of .40. There is evidence that “approximately 50 percent of all people with a BAC of .40 or higher will die.” Happily, because the coin flip landed the right way, the student survived.

While the Stanford community did not have to bury this student, this “coin flip” death should lead to the burial of three extremely destructive beliefs about alcohol.

Destructive belief 1: “The Stanford alcohol policy is working because no one has died in X years.” The recent coin-flip death ends this claim. We must move past this superior attitude that has made the alcohol problem on campus more and more severe and has endangered the physical and emotional health of an enormous number of students.

Destructive belief 2: “Each student is responsible for her or his own alcohol consumption.” While each individual must be responsible for his or her own behavior, that view is dangerously simplistic. Here is what has happened in virtually every single alcohol incident (more than 25) that I have encountered on campus (including the coin-flip death):

– A student or students other than the person who lands in the hospital knowingly provides a dangerous amount of alcohol to the student who becomes intoxicated. Are those students who provided the alcohol not responsible and not guilty of a Fundamental Standard violation?

– Multiple students watch the student drinking extremely large quantities of alcohol over a short period of time and do not get a staff member (who is always in the dorm or minutes away on speed-dial), the RF or any other knowledgeable person. Are those students who watched and did nothing not responsible and not guilty of a Fundamental Standard violation?

– Students carry the extremely ill student back to his dorm and do not tell a staff member, the RF or any other knowledgeable person. Are those students who carry a student not responsible and not guilty of a Fundamental Standard violation?

– Sometimes, one or more students “trick” or at least urge a student to drink to a level that causes risk up to a 50 percent chance of death. Are those students who urge the drinker not responsible and not guilty of a Fundamental Standard violation?

Destructive belief 3: “It is hard to tell if someone is dangerously drunk.” There is truth here, but that is beside the point. You don’t have to wait for an outcome to know it has occurred. For example, you see a student writing a paper by copying out of a book, changing a word here or there. The student gives you the paper and says, “Is this plagiarism?” It would be facetious to say, “Gee, I’m not an expert on plagiarism and it would be impossible for me to assess that.” The correct answer is: “Given that you copied out of the book, I don’t need to read the paper: you were plagiarizing.” Students do not drink alone and then collapse in the street, forcing observers to decide whether they are sleeping, epileptic or in alcohol danger. Every alcohol case I have encountered has unfolded with other students around during the drinking. Under these circumstances, you do not need a medical degree to detect a student’s dangerous behavior with alcohol.

Stanford students’ views of alcohol, including students who do not drink, are self-serving, lack personal or intellectual integrity and violate the Fundamental Standard. Almost no Stanford student will be sent to the hospital; almost all Stanford students will be knowingly watching someone who is likely to be sent to the hospital. It is time to stop the self-congratulatory nonsense about how successfully our undergraduates deal with alcohol.

Professor Clifford Nass

Otero resident fellow

About Op Ed

  • Eric

    I like how Mr. Nass briefly mentions that there is evidence that 50% of people with a 0.40% BAC die (without citing a source) and then later on acts like it’s a certainty.

    How come Mr. Nass didn’t post this opinion before the incident occurred?

  • So?

    So what is your solution? Make not reporting a drunk or encouraging someone to drink a fundamental standard violation? A lot of finger pointing with very little to zero solutions. Also here’s a hint why it’s hard to tell if someone is too drunk at a party: the majority of the people at the party are drunk.

  • Harvey Dent

    COIN FLIP DEATH! Heads, you live, tails, you die.

  • Coming from the RF who consistently has an out of control dorm.

    Sorry for Partying. Harder.

  • Evan

    The ignorant attitude expressed by your article is also espoused by the Stanford administration – the idea that diffusing responsibility throughout the community somehow makes us safer when students engage in dangerous behavior.

    I have seen that this attitude simply makes it easier for students to avoid taking responsibility for their own consumption of alcohol.

    It is ridiculous to suggest that Stanford students are not able to avoid the “tricks” perpetrated by other students to encourage drinking – such statements belittle the intelligence and confidence of students in the Stanford community.

    I am curious why Stanford is so hesitant to look more deeply into the Freshman alcohol culture. We somehow believe that an online program is enough to simulate the experiential learning necessary to manage alcohol and we allow underage students to consume alcohol in their rooms. Why have we not devised a better plan for managing the majority of students who have never consumed alcohol illegally before attending Stanford?

    It is far easier to blame the Stanford community than it is to take responsibility for a flawed process that supports underage alcohol abuse in Freshmen dorms. We must all work together to generate a comprehensive picture of Stanford alcohol policy and analyze points of intervention. Relying on the Stanford community to take responsibility for those who cannot regulate their own consumption of alcohol will not serve us in the long term.

  • Senior

    Do I think I should help if I see a friend or even an acquaintance if they look dangerously drunk? Yes. Do I think it’s my responsibility to monitor every person who comes to a party I host, ask them how much they drank before coming, and restrict how much is available to them if I think they’re had too much? No. Sometimes you have to be responsible for yourself.

    And I’ve seen scary-might-be-dying drunk people before. It’s not that hard to tell.