The Center for Michigan: in campus hospitals, beds full of drinking casualties


Last year, on a football Saturday in Ann Arbor just before Thanksgiving, I drove myself to the hospital with chest pains. As it turns out, I hadn’t had a heart attack, just a lot of stomach acid backing up into my lungs, but it took nearly 24 hours to come to that diagnosis. So I ended up spending an entire day just laying in a hospital bed, having my blood drawn, being poked at by doctors, and watching as the wing of the hospital where I was placed slowly fill up with black-out-drunk University of Michigan students. As you might recall, I posted about the experience here, and it led to a pretty good conversation about the culture of game day binge drinking at U-M. Well, one of the people who read that behind-the-scenes look at the U-M emergency room on game day was a writer by the name of Nancy Derringer, and we began talking. And, now, several months after she began looking into the issue with fellow researcher Ron French, they’ve published a report for The Center for Michigan’s online magazine on game day binge drinking. Whereas I just shared my observations, they actually did their homework, spending time among young college students, and interviewing the doctors and college administrators charged with looking after them, and it’s really compelling stuff. Here, to give you a sense of the piece, are two quotes from those interviewed.

“Walk from the student union down State Street to Hoover. Turn right on Hoover, maybe an hour before the game, you’ll see what we’re trying to deal with.” -Mark Bernstein, University of Michigan regent

“I hope for not-very-exciting games, held early, and in bad weather. It makes a huge difference for the emergency department.” -Dr. Jeffrey Desmond, interim chief medical officer at U-M’s hospital

It’s not every day that something I post here on the site takes root somewhere else and evolves into something better, and I’m incredibly happy to see that happen with this story, which really did deserve to be in the hands of real professionals. One hopes that perhaps the resulting discussion actually leads us to solutions that will work for our young people.

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  1. Peter Larson
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    I was going to link to Couch’s “Old Man” but it appears that it is not on YouTube.

  2. Bulb fan
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    “Old Man” is at the beginning of this hot live video

  3. Mr. X
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I refuse to accept that there are Bulb fans.

  4. Eel
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    It’s interesting that this hidden world exists behind the closed doors of the ER. I don’t see how it will possibly change, though. When you take rich kids away from their helicopter parents, there will be experimentation with what they perceive to be adulthood.

  5. Eel
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    This is a huge step in their evolution into adulthood. For many of this, this will be the first time they realize there are no consequences for their actions.

  6. Lynne
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Heh. I remember getting into a huge argument with some of my fellow students in a government class at Lake Superior State University on the subject of appropriate punishments for possession of illegal drugs. My fellow classmates were of the opinion that the death penalty would be appropriate, so that is what I was dealing with. Several of them didn’t even realize that Michigan doesn’t have the death penalty.

    At the time, Ann Arbor had just changed its pot fine from $5 to $25 but the fine for having open alcohol was like $100 or something. Higher than the pot fine. This blew their minds and they couldn’t understand it. My classmates, who were mostly from northern Michigan and Ontario, lived in a culture that really celebrated alcohol. They drank a LOT and publicly. Driving while drunk was considered one of those things that normal people probably shouldn’t do but often did and it was considered one of those things not worth ruining someone’s life over by punishing them for it. It was my first bit of culture shock.

    They didn’t like anyone telling them that one of the reasons Ann Arbor was more strict about alcohol than pot was because drunk UofM students caused way more damage than stoned UofM students. When I pointed out that several of my classmates had, just the previous weekend, gotten so drunk that they vandalized all kinds of things on campus while there were zero instances of stoned students causing trouble, it didn’t go over well.

  7. Peter Larson
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    “When you take rich kids away from their helicopter parents, there will be experimentation with what they perceive to be adulthood.”

    What, like poor kids don’t drink to excess? People choose to focus on the sex and drinking lives of kids who can afford to go to college, but I bet when you break it down, there’s a lot more dead poor kids than dead rich kids.

  8. Posted September 30, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    What are the consequences for the kids? Here’s my story–my junior year of college (I went to a small, liberal arts college), I did about 10 shots of vodka in about two hours. Yes, that was a really bad idea. Yes, I got drunker than I ever have. Yes, I got so sick I thought I was going to die. Lucky for me, my sort of boyfriend “Bone” (yes, that was his fraternity nickname and no, not why you’re thinking) was there to make sure I didn’t choke on my puke, held my hair back, etc etc etc and made sure I got my contact lenses out and got to sleep safely. I woke up the next morning feeling sicker than I have before or since. Therefore, I learned not to binge drink!

    Soooo…are these kids just not getting sick or do they not care? Is it just a joke? What sort of consequences would it take for them to reexamine these decisions?

  9. Frosted Flakes
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Good question Patti. My impulse is to support a crack down on irresponsible drinking students, but if the miserable effects of drinking a lot are not enough of a deterrent, then I am not sure what would deter them.

  10. Lynne
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I am not sure we, as a society, have the resources to tackle this problem with a crack down authoritarian approach. One thing that would help is for society to stop pretending that alcohol isn’t a harmful drug, one that is often MORE harmful than many drugs which are illegal including probably crack and heroin and certainly marijuana. Then, let people make their own choices all the while accepting that it is impossible to force people to make the choices we want them to make.

  11. XXX
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Surely someone at UM could invent something that we could add to the booze that we sell to young people to make their hangovers more painful, right?

  12. JAV
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Underage binge drinking seems to be encouraged by certain Ann Arbor city council members. Personally, I think shooting up in the public library bathroom is a more sign of desperate addiction and need for supportive services. This councilman, however, outraged last year over 8 incidents of reported heroin usage in a 3 1/2 year period as a scourge on the city compared to the thousands of innocent drunken college students on any given game day, had this to say:

    “So the question is — is there heroin use taking place in our community, but the perpetrators or users are not being arrested?” Kunselman said.
    He added, “We charge young college kids with MIPs just for having alcohol in their system, and we’re not arresting heroin users?”

  13. Dan
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Anyone read “Bear and Circus?”

    “In this fascinating book, Sperber uses original research culled from students, faculty, and administrators around the country, to argue that what universities offer instead of a meaningful undergraduate education is a meager and dangerous substitute: the party scene surrounding college sports that Sperber calls “beer and circus” and which serves to keep the students happy while tuition dollars keep rolling in. He explodes cherished myths about college sports, showing, for instance, that contrary to popular belief the money coming in to universities from sports programs never makes it to academic departments.”

  14. Dan
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    oops, should be “Beer and Circus” sorry

  15. Frosted Flakes
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Yep. I am an extremist, but I believe, We are in denial, as a culture, when it comes to assessing just how destructive alcohol is. The reason is simple enough: We are a bunch of alcoholics.

  16. Frosted Flakes
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Dan, that sounds like an interesting book.

  17. XXX
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    You could send every student one of these bears.

  18. Jill deYoe
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    The hospital wants to be sure you don’t die of a heart related issue while in their care. The University does not want a student to die of alcohol poisoning. Standard operating procedure to keep such patients overnight. Also, it helps the bottom line. That’s a lot of money generated in the ER on football days —

  19. Jcp2
    Posted September 30, 2015 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    There’s no hidden myth about the U of M’s athletic department funds. It’s all on public record. The Regents of the University have five separate divisions with five separate budgets that they are responsible for. They are the Ann Arbor campus, the Flint campus, the Dearborn campus, the University health system, and the University athletic department. Of course, funds from one entity are separate from another. The myth is more akin to public ignorance rather than institutional subterfuge.

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