While hazing does not necessarily involve alcohol use by either current or new members, often alcohol consumption is either a central or contributing element.
On the continuum of coercion to drink, an implicit condition may be as subtle as inviting new members to sit and drink with members while watching television. Or it can be more explicit, such as lining up shots and telling new members to drink them.
Pressure to participate in drinking rituals
Some fatal cases of hazing have been labeled as episodes of “binge drinking,” a term that suggests that the students who died of alcohol poisoning just used poor judgment and did not know when to stop drinking. It is more accurate to refer to such episodes as “ritualized drinking” in which there is systematic pressure applied to vulnerable new members that leads them to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol.
A common argument in defense of groups that pressure new members to drink is that they do not “force anyone to drink.” Comments such as “No one poured it down their throats,” and “They could have walked out at any time” ignore the reality of coercive power in groups and the fact that psychological force can be as strong as physical force.
Alcohol plays two main roles in hazing:
- Consumption by current members. Intoxication of current members is in essence “strategic disinhibition” designed to achieve the following:
- Enhance the fun of making new members go through experiences that current members had to endure.
- Reduce anxiety or guilt about subjecting new members to mental and physical distress. Alcohol enables members who feel conflicted about hazing to temporarily suspend their moral standards.
- Provide a sense of “insurance” against culpability by allowing hazers to point to their inebriated state as the explanation for hazing incidents. The “we were drunk and things just got out of hand” defense seeks to obscure that fact that hazing is generally premeditated and systematic. Intoxication, however, is not a valid legal or ethical defense.
- Consumption by new members. Providing alcohol to new members can serve a variety of functions, including:
- As a “social lubricant,” alcohol is used to increase new members’ comfort with each other and facilitate self-disclosure that can enhance group bonding.
- Alcohol impairs the judgment of new members thus decreasing their resistance to engaging in risky behavior.
- When combined with their lack of knowledge about what they are being subjected to, being intoxicated further lowers new members’ power relative to those who are hazing them.
- The withholding of alcohol at times from new members while current members drink serves to underscore the “privilege” of full membership, thus increasing the desirability of both alcohol and membership.
Risks of Alcohol in Hazing
In addition to potential legal and conduct related consequences, three health risks that alcohol poses in hazing:
Acute risk to new members
Rapid consumption of large quantities of alcohol can kill by suppressing brain functions:
- A person can pass out and then drown in his or her own vomit because of an impaired gag reflex.
- A person can pass out and then suffocate with his or her face in a pillow.
- A person’s breathing or heartbeat can stop.
Whenever a person is severely intoxicated, it is imperative that someone call for medical assistance. It is never worth risking someone’s life. Elon embraces students helping each other and enacts this Good Samaritan rule where one student seeks appropriate care for another. If a student is with another student “in danger” or “of concern” and calls for medical aid s/he will not be held accountable for violating the university alcohol policy. The university’s main concern is getting the proper care for the student in need. Students should call for help and NOT drive anyone in need of medical attention. Most students are not trained to care for the student should s/he become ill or disruptive which could impact one’s ability to drive safely. Students with or observing a student “in danger” are expected to seek medical attention. If a student is with another student who has had too much to drink and does not call for assistance s/he will be held accountable with strict sanctions for Behavior that Endangers the Health and Safety of Self and/or Others.
Chronic risks to new members
One in ten students reports worrying that they might have a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Many of these individuals have either developed or are at risk of developing alcohol dependency (the clinical term for alcoholism).
New member processes that involve alcohol pose extra risk for students with alcohol problems. The consequences for the individual can be serious and can have a major negative impact on the group as well. By creating conditions where it is difficult for a person with an alcohol problem to decline to drink, the group contributes to the person’s problem. In some cases, members are either unaware of such risks or recklessly disregard them.
Risk to hazers and the group
In addition to increasing their own risk of the acute and long-term individual consequences described above, members who haze risk harming others and bringing sanctions upon themselves or their organization. When the members of a group that is hazing become intoxicated, they may make disastrous decisions. Impaired judgment can turn a premeditated act of hazing into a tragedy.