Despite fraternities' consistent attempts to convince the world that they're not total shitshows, science recently confirmed that the alcohol habits within these institutions are as bad as they seem. The research, released last week, looked at 25 years worth of data on the drinking habits of over 6,000 Greek life university students in the United States.
The study found that frat brothers not only consume inordinate amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, but also that seeking out help for substance abuse doesn't seem to do anything for them. Those who did end up receiving intervention while in college either returned to the same drinking habits or increased the amount and frequency in which they drink.
Lori Scott-Sheldon, lead researcher on the report, told VICE that the nature of fraternities in particular (the study also evaluated sorority members, but they only made up 18 percent of the participants) likely makes it difficult for frat bros to quit drinking—largely because booze is a constant inside frats—and the impact goes further than a bad hangover.
"Excessive college drinking is associated with a range of academic, physical, psychological alcohol-related consequences such as property damage, personal injury, memory loss, sexual assault, and expulsion," Scott-Sheldon told VICE.
"We expected that a well-designed alcohol intervention delivered to members of Greek organizations would help members reduce their drinking when compared to controls, but that did not happen. Why not? We believe that individual fraternity members may find it challenging to act on their plans to reduce the amount they drink given that they are immersed in a social environment that endorses and facilitates alcohol use," she added.
It raises the question—how do frat brothers feel about the idea of a systemic issue of alcoholism within fraternity culture? To get a better idea, I asked some current and former frat brothers about their experiences with the bottle inside the frat house.
Why did you decide to join a frat?
It was first year of university and I was in a program [biomedical science] that I didn't really want to be in. It was my parent's choice. I really wanted to party and have that typical university life. I figured I could meet tons of different people and get different, y'know, spices of life if I was in a frat.
You told me when we first spoke that there was a lot of drinking at your frat but that you tried not to partake. How did that affect your time there?
I tried to only drink at big parties, at [special events], stuff like that. It can be very tempting to get home and crack open a beer every day, every night, because that's kind of acceptable and part of the culture. A lot of my friends had issues with drug use but it was normalized. I still cared about my grades and the bigger picture [of having a career] so I didn't want to get caught up in that.
How did it affect me? Near the end, there was more animosity between me and some of my longtime brothers. Ends start to fray when everybody is going their own way and some are doing a lot better than others. We were kind of expected to be on better behavior because frats get this bad image and we want people to actually graduate, get jobs, and become good alumni. There were some guys who couldn't get to that level and there was jealousy.
Do you think alcohol addiction is a real issue to be concerned about for people joining frats?
You need to be a particular kind of person to live in a fraternity and still get stuff done. Basically, if you can go to a party and turn down coke, or have a long-term relationship, or hold down a job, take care of yourself and your body, then you can probably do it. It's people who were already erratic and have bad [judgement] who tend to fall into really long benders and start to fail their classes.
If you could go back, would you participate in a frat again?
I think I would. I don't think I was negatively impacted by being there.
Do you find yourself drinking a lot now that you're living in a frat?
Yes, I'm probably [partying] four or five times a week right now.
What's the reason you find yourself drinking so much?
It was originally a fear of missing out, I think. Mate, I can tell you that I really didn't want to be drinking that much when I started. I would say I was kind of a lightweight [laughs]. That kind of went away after my first year in [the frat], and after that, I just started to love partying. The girls, the craziness you get up to, y'know? It's hard to just say, "I'm gonna stop that right now. I'm just going to lay low." I don't think I'm ready.
New research says that alcohol intervention among frat members is generally useless. What's your take on that?
I definitely see it. I mean, take a bunch of guys and put them in a big house with no supervision except for that of slightly older guys whose idea of mentoring is getting you laid and making you ultra confident. It sets up a sort of ego where, if you don't kind of get all that done, you aren't a part of the group. Drinking is just within frats because it's kind of a big party all the time. You can't just side step or bow out for a bit because you're living inside it.
How has your drinking habit affected you?
I broke up with my girlfriend because I was partying so much and while she was heading back to [Australia] over the summer [author's note: Sammy is from Australia but has stayed in Canada full-time since moving here for college], I was still here doing my thing. I ended up cheating on her a bunch of times because it just became so tempting and I was so messed up on most days that I didn't have the time to process that. I really feel bad about it now.
Have you expressed your concerns to anybody else?
I have got into arguments with some of the [guys] who drink more than me, because I worry about them, y'know? But it just becomes something that isn't worth your time. This is the way many of us live. It's different than most friend groups, you can't just talk this out of people.
You told me openly that you're an alcoholic. Is that a figure of speech or do you mean it literally?
I drink every day, and I'm pretty much always drunk. I would say I have an alcohol problem.
Did it start when you joined a fraternity?
No, but [being in a frat] doesn't help. Now I have no good support to pull my ass up together. I've been seeing a doctor for it.
Do you feel like you can open up to people in the frat about your mental health?
It's really not an environment that's conducive to that kind of discussion. There are smart ass mother fucking dudes here, but it's like living with roommates and telling them about your issues. A lot of people just don't want to hear it, and the more people there are, the better chance people aren't going to listen.
Have you thought about leaving the frat?
Well, it's cheap and a lot of us stay because it's easy. You don't have to worry about a lot of things when living with frat brothers—I can rely on the fact that there will always be food, [booze], and a good time. You always have somebody to talk to. I'm going to try and work out [my issues] on my own.
Generally speaking, do you think alcohol abuse is an issue in frats?
Nah, that's some media bullshit to be completely honest with you. I know there's stereotypes of frats drinking a lot, but fuck's sake, that's every kid in university. I don't believe it.
So you haven't seen issues of alcoholism before with your frat brothers?
Look man, everybody has stuff they're dealing with. People break up with somebody, they start drinking more. Somebody dies, they party harder. People celebrate—there's more of a celebratory vibe inside [frats]. That's all it is.
But do you think a fraternity is a safe environment for people to admit they have issues? What if they're repressing them?
We're in the generation of complaining. I think a lot of guys realize that they might not be depressed, they're just dealing with some bullshit and that'll all be a breeze once they push through it. I know there are real issues with mental health, but I don't think it's in our belief to attract people like that.
You think frats don't attract people with mental health issues?
No, I don't think so. All of the guys who come through our door are either naive or have seen some shit. Either way, they all leave fit for the world, and that's what Greek life is all about.
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