A few weeks ago at the CSU vs. New Mexico football game, I witnessed close-up students so intoxicated they had no idea where they were. One thought the nurse helping her in the detox tent was her grandmother. College students are famous for risky behavior, and heavy drinking is a common one. There’s new brain research that helps explain this propensity toward risk. Scientists used to think that by age 18, we were out of adolescence. New MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) studies show that our brain’s frontal lobes continue to transform all the way into our mid-twenties. This area of the brain plays important roles in memory, planning, decision-making and impulse control. At this age, we don’t commit mistakes to memory and we don’t judge dangers and risks the same way an adult would.
This is not all bad. In fact, Aaron White, an assistant psychiatry professor whose research has focused on issues of alcohol consumption at Duke University says, “It is critical to the survival of the species that adolescents are willing to take chances, have novel experiences, and learn new skills.” After all, if you weren’t willing to risk, you’d never leave the nest, support yourself, fall in love or have children!
The trick, of course, is staying alive through this chancy time. At Student Legal Services, I’ve written wills for students whose main reason for making a will was, “I’m engaged in some pretty high risk activity and I want to set things up in case I don’t make it.” These students had the interesting combination of having enough frontal lobe maturity to think ahead, yet no interest in abstaining from risky activities.
CSU is one of a few schools that addresses high risk alcohol behavior at football games by setting up medical and detox tents. A medical team checks a patient’s vitals, administers needed medical care and decides if transport to the hospital emergency room is needed. If cleared from the medical tent, the patient is monitored at the next-door detox tent, where nurses and CSU staff help with vomit buckets and administer water to curb dehydration. They also make sure the patient gets home, or to a detox facility, safely.
The police are involved in this process. If the patient is under 21, he or she will be charged with Minor in Consumption or Possession of Alcohol (MIP). The police, of course, also give out MIP tickets in the stadium and parking lots.
This year, CSU began a new practice at football games of giving “internal” tickets for MIP to first offenders. If you get one of these, you’re lucky. A few of the police on duty at games are from the community and will issue a Larimer County ticket instead of an internal one. If you get a county ticket, you’re not so lucky.
With the internal ticket, you are summoned to CSU’s office of Student Conduct Services to dispute or account for your violation. If you’re found in violation, you will be required to take an alcohol assessment and a level of class or treatment indicated by the results of the assessment. You will pay $150 to CSUPD, which they use to defray the costs of alcohol enforcement at games – a user fee, if you will.
In contrast, an MIP on a county ticket carries much more serious consequences – for a first offense: A $250 fine, 24 hours of useful public service (which costs you $80 to set up), an alcohol assessment and class or treatment at your expense (at least another $60) and, maybe the hardest of all, your driver’s license is revoked for up to three months. This last part, the revocation, is mandatory with an MIP conviction. Even if you were ticketed on top of a mountain with no access to a car and no intent to drive, you’d lose your license. Finally, you will have a criminal conviction on your record, which, fortunately, you can apply to have sealed after a year goes by under certain conditions. With the internal CSU ticket, you do not have a criminal conviction to deal with. However, the student conduct proceeding will appear on your CSU record, which can be discovered by future employers.
So remember that while it may be your destiny to take risks at this time in your life, it is police destiny to enforce drinking laws. And while researchers are busy analyzing your brains, you may want to channel your frontal lobes to consider the consequences to your health, pocketbook and criminal record of your next risky activity. If that fails, come see us for help.