[2]The music is so loud you can hardly think. Clouds of smoke surround you. You can’t find your friends; well at least not the ones you came with, and everywhere you look seems the same as the place you saw just five seconds ago. Finally you see a familiar face and run to the person as if you haven’t seen them in years. It’s 2 a.m. and you’ve been out since 6 p.m.
This is the all too familiar description of a much-anticipated field trip out with your friends that after a couple hours has turned into what seems to be one of the longest and messed-up (to say it nicely) nights of your life.
College life just seems to lend itself to using drinking and even smoking marijuana as a social device. It is probably safe to say most college students in Michigan come from families where drinking (or for some even casual drug use) is not necessarily frowned upon. We meet significant others after a dose of “liquid courage,” make friends over occasionally lighting up, and are these really terrible things?
Party Culture
So what is it exactly about partying that has such an appeal? Most students, at least those who are of the legal drinking age (and those select few who are lucky enough to slide by with a fake ID), know that drinking is a preferred way to socialize and even connect with others.
“The college environment facilitates drinking,” said psychology professor Brent Donnellan. “There is something about the culture surrounding drinking which facilitates it. There is also the thrill or sensation seeking which drives drinking.”
Drinking in college, as students know, is the farthest thing from uncommon. Walking into a Quality Dairy convenience store and shopping for anything other than alcohol on a Thursday through Saturday night is uncommon (unless you\’re buying chasers to go with that alcohol). The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a national survey in 2004 that found that nearly half of all college students surveyed drank four or five drinks in one sitting within the previous two weeks. In contrast, according to the National College Health Assessment survey that was also conducted in 2004, 20 percent of MSU’s total population reported that they do not drink alcohol and 10 percent of that 20 percent say they have never consumed alcohol.
Gary Stollak is a clinical psychologist and a MSU psychology professor. “Until someone’s compulsive behavior is affecting their everyday life, there is no problem, as far as I, as a clinical psychologist, am concerned,” he said. It’s not necessarily the drinking that’s the problem. Both drinking and playing online poker are considered social behavior. “The problem comes when the person is playing poker so much that it hinders the relationship with the family or when the drinking is taking such a toll that one is tripping and messing up constantly at work,” said Stollak.
It may not even be getting drunk that people seek. Plenty of people, like 22-year-old Adam Zink, claim to drink only one night per week. “I drink with a group of friends, and I\’d say my wife is there most of the time,\” said Zink. \”I will only drink ‘in excess’ around my close friends, not just with any random people.”
Criminal justice senior, John Ormsby is a 21-year-old who goes to the bar at least two times a week. “It’s nice because it’s time I don’t have to worry about school and it’s a good time to hang out with my friends,” he said. Ormsby chooses going to the bar over hanging out at home because, “I don’t have to worry about the cops coming and issuing a noise violation or things getting broken.”
[3]Zinc, on the other hand, prefers to drink in the comfort of his home while playing poker or hanging out with friends. “If I were single, I\’m sure I would enjoy the bar scene more, but it seems pointless for me to go,” he said. Avoiding the bars in order to steer clear of conversation with random people certainly is not the popular vote among most college students. “Going to the bar and hanging out with my friends and just having a good time with whoever is around is a blast,” said advertising senior Diane Bordt.
Along with drinking, smoking marijuana is also part of party culture in and around universities. Students that do smoke marijuana, with or without drinking, are in the words of Brent Donnellan ‘sensation seeking’ or are also looking for the buzz or high to take a load off and loosen up. Perhaps better known for marijuana use is the University of Michigan’s campus. Ann Arbor even dedicates a day, Hash Bash, to using marijuana. Police patrol the city in order to keep things civil but because of the celebratory attitude within the city, there are not usually many arrests.
Marijuana laws in the Ann Arbor city limits state that if an individual is caught smoking marijuana they are issued a $50 ticket for a civil infraction. East Lansing law, which includes MSU, states that if a person is caught with the drug or smoking it and has not had it prescribed to them by a health practitioner they are guilty of possession and in turn are charged with a misdemeanor. The fine alone will cost you $25 and don’t forget to tack on court fees, community service for up to 45 days and the attendance and completion of a program of substance abuse. The individual is also then subject to the suspension of their driver’s license; this is left to the discretion of the court.
However, just like at MSU, if someone is on Michigan’s campus and is caught smoking marijuana, they are arrested and taken to jail and can suffer court costs and possibly other consequences.
Rebecca Allen heads alcohol-related health education efforts at MSU and she is a Community Relations Coalition board member who said the number of students who smoke marijuana at U of M are definitely higher than the numbers at MSU.
But as U of M pre-med junior Taylor Nichols said, “If people are going to smoke, they are going to smoke regardless of the law.”
Harsher laws in East Lansing may or may not lead to what’s perceived as lower marijuana use here rather than in Ann Arbor. According to the National College Health Assessment conducted in 2003, 63.7 percent of 1,326 students at MSU said they have never smoked marijuana. Allen said these numbers remain about the same each year the survey is conducted.
Patrice Flax, coordinator of U of M’s University Health Service, Health Promotion and Community Relations, said, “I think people see Ann Arbor as a town that’s progressive and libertarian, therefore we kind of do whatever. The marijuana thing is part of Ann Arbor’s culture and that’s just how it is.”
[1]Partying as Social Capital
In college, many students use alcohol and marijuana as a way to build social capital – the feelings of connectedness among individuals that fosters community and civic engagement. Fraternities and sororities on college campuses seem to be known for crazy partying, but also for their connections in the community. Surprisingly enough, Taylor Nichols joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at U of M because he was interested in a brotherhood with people who set high standards for themselves both academically and socially. “Being involved with the fraternity is something that poses somewhat of a challenge when it comes to the culture of drinking,” said Nichols. When asked whether he spent much time, outside of partying, with his brothers Nichols responded, “Unfortunately, partying is what you have to do to socially in order to interact with your brothers. Some party harder than others and unfortunately there isn’t much of an in-between so if you’re going to hang out with them to party, then you really have to party with them.”
As long as alcohol and marijuana are available, and with so many bars and small-time drug dealers, they are available, students will probably always be a part of a party culture. Undecided sophomore Jessica Elrod has friends that smoke pot but she says it isn’t that popular of an interest among the majority of her friends. “I think at first they do it to fit in then smoking weed becomes more routine,\” she said. \”Eventually people begin to think they have to do it to enhance their social experience.” Jessica’s feelings regarding people’s want to fit in go along with what Professor Donnellan says about peer groups. “We follow norms to establish a common ground with peers.”
Of course, sometimes people even meet their one and only while partying, which may be an unseen upside to having a good time. Social work junior Amanda Faas’s parents, Dave and Holly Faas, met at a Kalamazoo Coral Gables one night while Holly and a girlfriend of hers were shooting pool. Dave and a buddy came to ask if they could play doubles and after two years of dating, Dave and Holly were engaged. They will celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary in June. Now the chances of finding true love at Rick’s on a Thursday night are probably pretty slim, but social drinking is called social drinking for a reason and it’s not impossible. (Try and count how many friends or significant others you’ve met while out partying, just try.)
Whether headed to the bar, planning a kegger or even burning one – remember the culture that makes college unique, if not hazy, and respect the substances by not going too far. While you may not be as lucky as Dave and Holly, chances are you’ll have a good time – well, what you remember of it anyway.

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