While hazing does not necessarily involve alcohol use by either current or new members, often alcohol consumption is either a central or contributing element.
According to the Texas A&M University Campus Code of Conduct, any consumption of alcohol, other drugs, or other substances that is "an explicit or implicit condition for initiation to, admission into, affiliation with, or continued membership in a group or organization" is hazing. This definition is applied regardless of the level of pressure to drink.
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 fifteen shots and asking which of the new members can consume them in fifteen minutes.
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 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.
1. Consumption by current members: Intoxication of current members is in essence "strategic disinhibition" designed to achieve the following:
2. Consumption by new members: Providing alcohol to new members can serve a variety of functions, including the following:
In addition to potential legal and judicial consequences, there are three health main risks that alcohol poses in hazing:
Rapid consumption of large quantities of alcohol can kill by suppressing brain functions:
Heavy drinking can also lead to a wide range of negative consequences such as injuries and memory loss. It can also contribute to being sexually victimized. Whenever a person is severely intoxicated, it is imperative that someone call for medical assistance. Every student should be familiar with the signs of alcohol poisoning and how to get help.
It is never worth risking someone's life for the sake of the group. When someone does the right thing and calls for help, Texas A&M University administrators consider the act of calling a mitigating circumstance when determining any sanctions that might apply to an organization. Not calling is an aggravating circumstance that will result in more severe sanctions.
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. In one case, a new member explained to current members that another new member was recovering from a drinking problem. Rather than exempt the recovering member from drinking rituals, the members targeted this person for drinking activities.
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.
In the spring of 1980, a pledge at an Ithaca College fraternity died during a hazing episode. Whether or not this individual or the brothers in the fraternity had consumed alcohol prior to the incident is not clear. But the poor judgments of these individuals lead to both the death of a fellow student and the abolishment of the entire fraternity system at the college.