In my family life class we study the Beavers Scale of family functioning. In the middle of the Beavers Scale is the Level 3 family, which he describes as "rule bound." In such families, order is maintained by a set of rules, yet these same rules often prevent intimacy. I (not Robert Beavers) speculated that this kind of family is the most common kind, the kind that most Centre College students come from. This would explain to me why most, but by no means all, students drink so much alcohol: the "social lubricant" lets them suspend the rules and allow intimacy temporarily. In the morning, though, the rules, and their authority to create order, snap back into place.
Ginny Anderson, a fine student in that class, offered this further insight in her class journal:
You suggested in class today that your average “fraternity party-goer” comes from a Level Three family, using alcohol to suspend the inhibiting family rules and foster a sense of intimacy with others. Although this would never have occurred to me, I’m inclined to agree, because it fits so well into the pattern of alcohol use at this college.
In general, when Centre students drink, it isn’t a glass of wine at dinner, or a beer while the game is on. It is “split a pitcher” margaritas at dinner, rum and coke at the pre-party, and an extra helping in the solo cup as you head out the door. This isn’t about enjoying a refreshing beverage – it is absolutely about being at least moderately blitzed before you have to interact with people of the opposite gender. Groups like SMART (alcohol peer educators) and the Panhellenic Council [the sorority coordination board] sometimes postulate that this behavior is academic-related escapism – the “work hard, play harder” mentality. But I don’t think that really gets to the root of the problem. Alcohol (ab)use is fairly standard across the spectrum of colleges and universities (with notable exceptions, of course), even at schools where the workload is lighter than Centre students experience. The great equalizer in this case could be the number of the students that were born and raised in rule-bound families.
I feel like a lot of pieces of information start coming together when you consider college social scenes in this light. Alcohol use as a method of shedding inhibitions. The way that college women say it’s easier to sleep with a guy than have a genuine conversation with him. And a study that I read in intro psychology, which observed the “placebo effect” of alcohol. Women who thought they were drinking beer but were actually receiving a non-alcoholic substitute still act as if the rules are suspended (which is often manifested in provocative and forward behavior). All of these become “intimacy crutches” for people (especially women) who never learned how to find real intimacy. But with this behavior, all they ever get is the substitute, never the real thing.