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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Editor's Note: This is the second story in a three-part series on the drinking culture of Gainesville.

A pitcher of beer and seven cups sit front and center on the table. Six college men bounce quarters into the clear plastic cups and then chug until they reach the bottom.

Every Wednesday night. First Copper Monkey. Then Gator City.

It's tradition, they said.

Alcohol is prevalent in most college towns, and Gainesville is no exception. But UF and local law enforcement officers are taking a closer look at Gainesville's drinking culture.

"People for generations have associated alcohol with college," UF spokesman Steve Orlando said. "We're not unique in that respect."

UF President Bernie Machen isn't a prohibitionist, Orlando said, but he has been campaigning against underage and binge drinking since he took the helmon the UF campus.

The most popular activities for students revolve around drinking - including nightlife, tailgating and house parties.

The under-21 age restriction for drinking serves as a protective law, said Tavis Glassman, coordinator of Alcohol & Other Drug Prevention for GatorWell Health Promotion Services.

And results from the 2006 Core Alcohol and Drug Survey, which analyzes students across the country, show that many students disregard the law.

"About 70 percent of students who are underage have had a drink in the last 30 days," Glassman said, "so, clearly, this is an issue."

At Shands at UF, 16- to 29-year-olds have the highest incidence of trauma center visits for vehicle crashes involving alcohol, said Michele Ziglar, program manager at Shands' trauma center.

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The center receives the most alcohol-related visits on Saturdays and sees a rush after the bars close at 2 a.m., Ziglar said.

Underage drinking in bars

Lisa Stengel, 19, wore a blue wristband on her right arm, signifying her underage status at Gator City in midtown on Wednesday night.

Standing at 4 feet 11 inches, Stengel, a freshman telecommunications major at UF, walked out of the bar sipping from a half-full Miller Lite bottle, according to a police report.

A police officer asked her how old she was, put her in handcuffs and placed her in his police car to process her arrest for underage drinking.

Stengel's friend began to bang on the car windows, asking about Stengel, according to the police report.

The officer then arrested her friend, SFCC student Ashleah Chiacchiero, for interrupting his investigation.

The two college students were taken to Alachua County Jail, where they spent the night.

"I realize that was dumb of me, and I deserved (the citation)," Stengel said, "but I didn't deserve to go downtown."

Stengel is one of many arrested for this offense.

Last year, 1,009 people were arrested in Gainesville for underage drinking, according to GPD records.

Officers look for people who are calling attention to themselves or don't look old enough to be drinking, said Capt. Lonnie Scott, GPD commander for the downtown area.

"Most of (those arrested) are not happy about it," Scott said. "Some of them probably don't believe they got caught."

Joe Cappelletti, a bartender at Jack's Bar & Grill for about a year, has seen a lot of excessive drinking and crazy nights downtown.

He believes part of the problem of is that venues have to close early.

"I don't understand the concept of bars (closing) at 2 a.m., and kids come out at like 12:30 p.m.," Cappelletti said.

Drinking on game day

The fall semester is full of RVs, folding tables, alumni and alcohol.

Tents and lawn chairs pop up all over campus lawns. Groups of alumni and students gather to drink and cheer for the Gators with Solo cups in hand.

Game day is unique to drinking trends because the behavior becomes more acceptable, even at extreme levels, according to results from one survey.

The 2006 Game Day Survey, which was e-mailed to a randomly selected group of students, asked students about their typical drinking behavior on game days.

Glassman, a leader of the study, noticed a type of high-risk drinking common at tailgating, called extreme ritualistic alcohol consumption.

While binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more for men, the extreme consumption level doubles these numbers to eight drinks for women and 10 for men.

The amount of drinking isn't the only difference during tailgating.

On any other day of the week during football season, on-campus drinking would only be allowed at Orange & Brew, the faculty lounge in Dauer Hall and the President's Home.

The sheer number of drinkers on game day compared to the number of officers sets the priority to those putting themselves or others in danger, said Capt. Jeff Holcomb, University Police spokesman.

That includes underage drinking, parties and public urination.

At Shands, about 41 percent of all trauma-center cases on home-game days are alcohol related.

During away games, that number increases to about 51 percent, Ziglar said.

She added that 70 percent of these patients are male.

Under Machen's campaign against underage and binge drinking, law enforcement on game days has increased, Holcomb said.

"If a law officer sees someone who's obviously had too much to drink," Orlando said, "Jell-O shots and the whole nine yards, that's a problem."

PARTY PATROL

With kegs, beer bongs and drinking games galore, house parties can easily lead to binge drinking because alcohol consumption is the main attraction.

"Most high-risk drinking takes place off campus," Glassman said.

At parties, high-risk drinking can lead to poor choices and high levels of noise.

That's when Operation Party Responsibly, more commonly known as Party Patrol, steps in.

"It's probably a rite of passage to be visited by the Party Patrol," Lt. David Rowe, coordinator of GPD's Party Patrol, said about the frequency of house parties in Gainesville.

Rowe said the unit aims to educate students about responsible partying and works to keep parties under control.

If officers find underage drinkers, ideally, they are supposed to take a zero-tolerance policy, Rowe said.

Underage drinkers can be given written arrests, and the party hosts can be charged with having an open house party because they allowed underage drinking.

Nicholas Jimison, a third-year UF biology student, said Party Patrol showed up at a friend's party of about 25 people.

The patrol gave written arrests to underage drinkers, 20-year-old Jimison said, and then asked everyone to leave.

He was not one of those who received a written arrest.

Jimison thought Party Patrol worsened the situation because many drinkers then drove off in their cars.

Rowe said the patrol wants people to have a designated driver or to stay in walking distance of their homes.

If officers find a violation, Rowe said, the party should be shut down.

The unit usually issues a noise warning notice on the first complaint, but a second violation will lead to a $250 fine.

"We do want to send a message," Rowe said, "and be stringent in our enforcement."

CAN tradition change?

Chants of "chug, chug, chug" and students boasting about who can drink the most won't last forever.

"Once they get out of this environment," Glassman said, "the drinking starts to slow way down."

During college, 30 percent of students meet the diagnosis for alcohol abuse and one in 17 meets the diagnosis for dependence, he said.

Bar hopping on a Wednesday night, sitting in a lawn chair on game day or playing beer pong at a friend-of-a-friend's party would make it seem like students don't consider the problems of extreme alcohol use.

But experts like Glassman certainly see the culture of student drinking as a growing issue.

Bottles labeled Captain Moron, Whyy and Southern Discomfort line a shelf within Glassman's office.

"Why is a 40-year-old who does a keg stand an alcoholic and a 20-year-old is not?" Glassman said.

"(Drinking) is part of the culture, and we need to change that perception," he said.

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