Alcohol problem in the USA

The consumption of alcohol by minors in the United States of America is an issue that has existed for many decades and is widely believed to take place within the college environment. The most commonly known location that is associated with underage drinking on college campuses across the nation is the Greek System, an area populated by sororities and fraternities. Recently, the media and general public have placed a very negative image upon the Greek System, portraying fraternities as nothing but houses for young men to party all night, partake in casual sex, and illegally consume and distribute alcohol to minors. The powerful negative image that the media has presented the public of fraternity-related incidences has created a socially accepted link involving fraternities and deviance. It is the purpose of this study to further investigate deviant behavior within the fraternity party setting and demonstrate how strain and differential association theories can be used to provide possible explanations as to why fraternities do not consider their actions to be defined as deviant.


In order to guarantee that the data for this study was uncontaminated by possible misrepresentations of attitudes and behaviors due to outside variables, precautions were taken to provide strictly observational results.

The scheduled time for the party to begin is 10 PM Thursday night, but the brothers aren?t expecting any girls to arrive until 10:30 PM at the earliest. With this in mind, many of the brothers begin drinking before anyone arrives as a sort of bonding time between them. Between 9:30 ? 10:30 PM, most of the brothers have consumed at least two or three beers but have shown no signs of intoxication. By 11 PM the party has started to peek and alcohol is present almost everywhere throughout the house. As girls enter the dance floor, they make their way immediately to the corner where the alcohol is being served, usually by an underage brother, and have a drink or two on average before they make their way to the dance floor and begin to socialize. As midnight approaches slurring of speech, loss of coordination, and flirtatiousness are prominent characteristics that can be easily noticed in both brothers and girls alike by just casually glancing around the room.

The seemingly everlasting supply of alcohol has finally started to run dry as the clock approaches 2 AM. So far I have only noticed one brother and two girls who have had to be escorted to the bathroom for apparently drinking too much. As the music begins to die there are only a few brothers, guests, and girls who are left in the basement to converse, with everyone else either having left or made their way back up to their rooms in a feeble attempt to catch a few hours of sleep before attempting to attend class in a matter of hours.


The most obvious factor affecting the ability for underage minors to become intoxicated is whether or not they have access to alcohol. For many minors, a fraternity party not only represents the chance to socialize and have fun on a Thursday night, but it also provides the opportunity to illegally consume alcohol. Strain theory would suggest that in order for any deviant behavior to occur, access to illegitimate means must be readily available. A perfect example of how to implement this theory into the given context is to compare two college students; one who is a member of a fraternity and the other lives in the dorms. The student who has joined a fraternity is able to easily gain access to illegitimate means, since there are a great number of 21-year-olds who are willing to purchase alcohol for the underage brothers, as compared to the student living in the dorms who would be forced to search for a source that would be willing to purchase alcohol, which could involve a considerable amount of time and effort and may not guarantee any repeat business.

By the fraternity adopting a set of values that creates a structure where illegitimate means are easily accessible to minors, they come under great scrutiny from the university and the public in general. The fraternity is viewed as blatantly disregarding the regulations set forth by the university and city and is immediately labeled as deviant. Organizations such as the Liquor Control Board are then formed by society in an attempt to utilize methods of formal sanctions of direct social control upon the fraternity hoping to minimize, if not eliminate, the deviant behavior.

Admitting minors into the party without checking their IDs has become as much a norm as the parties themselves. ?In spite of the law and regulations we all give alcohol to minors? (Alcohol Antics, p. 95). It is this type of attitude where the brothers feel obligated to purchase alcohol for their underage counterparts because the same was done for them in the past and they are ?symbolically returning the favor? (Alcohol Antics, p. 95). When it comes to physically purchasing the alcohol, minors are encouraged to provide transportation to the older brothers, but are always asked to remain in the car to avoid any possible implications that should arise, despite the fact that a recent study conducted in 1996 noted that a vast majority of stores were more than willing to sell alcohol to a 21-year-old accompanied by a minor (Wolfson, et al., 1996, p. 593). Even though the brothers do not feel that providing minors with alcohol should be considered deviant, they do have a very strict set of rules involving drunk driving.

It is a well-known fact that drunk driving has become a hot topic over the past decade, especially with statistics revealing that ?as many as 40% of American adolescents have driven after drinking?? (Grube and Voas, 1996, p. 1843). With all of the attention placed on this issue by society, it is interesting to find out that all of the brothers? guests that attended the party either spent the night or woke up early the next morning to make the trek back to their homes. Here we see that while the strain theory could be applied, since driving under the influence would be very tempting to do, the brothers and their guests have chosen to adopt this law into their sub-cultural values and therefore could be characterized by a consensus based theory.

The act of ?binge drinking? is a term that is commonly connected to not only fraternities, but a majority of college-aged males and females as well. A loose definition of binge drinking is ?the consumption of 5 or more drinks in a row for men and 4 or more drinks in a row for women?? (Wechsler, et al., 1999, p. 371). Recent studies across college campuses have shown that while underage students, on average, drink less frequently than their legal counterparts, they are more likely to participate in binge drinking (Wechsler, et al., 2000, p. 24), which was confirmed by my observations. It is easy to see how the theory of differential association could easily be applied to the situation facing the brothers and binge drinking. With binge drinking being an accepted norm by the older brothers, younger brothers and pledges will learn to adopt the deviant behavior into their personal set of values due to ?excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of law? (Sutherland and Cressey, 1974, p. 146). In order for differential association to succeed, not only do the definitions of participating in the deviant behavior have to be favorable, but coinciding with strain theory, the opportunity and environment for learning must be present as well. Differential association would support the concept that as younger brothers come of age they will in turn bestow their set of values onto the new generation of brothers and the pattern will most likely continue unless the learning environment is disrupted by an outside source, such as being placed on probation by the university.


By observing the party firsthand I was better able to create a direct correlation between deviant behavior and the fraternity party atmosphere. Differential association theory was able to provide evidence as to why binge drinking has become a common theme found deeply embedded into the norms of fraternities across the nation and strain theory provided insight as to why brothers? values differed when it came to admitting minors into parties compared to driving while intoxicated. While there are many deviant behaviors that have been adopted by fraternities as norms, what I have come to conclude agrees with Bud Bradley?s article ?Fraternity Drinking,? found in Degrees of Deviance. Deviant behavior, such as underage and binge drinking, have become deeply rooted traditions in fraternity life and it will take a considerable amount of time and effort to alter the set of values that have been passed down generation to generation. ?We are not the first group to give alcohol to minors, nor will we be the last? (Bradley, 1999, p. 97).


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Sutherland, Edwin H. & Cressey, Donald R. (1974) Differential Association Theory,
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Wechsler, Henery, Kuo, Meichun, Lee, Hang & Dowdall, George. (2000) Environmental
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Wechsler, Henery, Molnar, Beth E., Davenport, Andrea E. & Baer, John S. (1999)
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Wolfson, Mark, Toomey, Traci L., Murray, David M. et al. (1996) Alcohol outlet
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