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Wet Universities & Dry Students; “Sober as Deviant”

Alcoholism deviant Disclosure education ethnography gender LIfestyle medical Negative Race sober sobriety stigma

As many young adults prepare to go away to college and embrace the festivities of their life, some choose to stay sober.  A majority of college/University campuses have acclimated to the saga of binge drinking, promiscuous sex, and blackouts.


According to the article “Sober as Deviant: The Stigma of Sobriety and How Some College Students ‘Stay Dry’ on a ‘Wet’ Campus (Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 2013)” by Nancy J Herman-Kinney and David A. Kinney it’s expressed in the abstract there are certain types of labels and stigmatizations that come with ‘sober as deviant.’  Kinney and Kinney go on to state the stigmata’s as “negative deviants,” “rate busters,” and “positive deviants” to “delineate how non drinkers are viewed by different audiences on a ‘wet’ campus.”

Kinney and Kinney go on adhering to Wechsler’s definition of “binge drinking as 5 alcoholic drinks in a row for males” and at least “four drinks for females at least once in a two-week period.”

Herman-Kinney and Kinney’s research [65, 2013] tells us “These rates [binge drinking] have ranged between 40-45% from 1993 to the present” [Mika 2009; Department of Health and Human Services 2005, 2007; Wechsler et al. 1998; Wechsler et al. 2002].

 To focus on race and gender, Herman-Kinney and Kinney [65, 2013] confirm through their findings that:

  • Males are more likely to binge drink versus women with a ratio of 49 to 41 percent. [Capraro 2000; Peralta et al 2010; Wechsler et al. 2002]
  • Minorities are also far less likely to use alcohol than whites with the rates at 50% white, 34% Latino/Latina, 22% African American.  [Chen et al. 2009; Wechsler et al 2002]
  • It’s exemplified that students in “Greek Organizations” possess a higher rate to engage in binge drinking than other students not involved in such activities. [e.g., Cashin, Presley, and Meilman 1998; Durkin; Wolfe; and Clark 2005]

In an excerpt provided by Herman-Kinney and Kinney [72, 2013] one-student (abstainer) states in an intensive and extensive interview conducted for the college perception of drinking and binge drinking:

“Let’s face it. In this world today, in American Society, so much centers around alcohol. Madison Avenue has brainwashed us into believing that we must/should do everything with a beer in our hands. . . . We can’t watch a sporting event . . . without being wasted or half wasted. . . . I went to a tailgating party recently and was one of the only ones sober. I was given a lot of shit about it by kids my age and even some of the older people around.”

Courtesy of  sober Wet Universities & Dry Students; "Sober as Deviant" bluto animal houseIn Herman-Kinney and Kinney’s (71-72, 2013) article, another excerpt proves the point from an abstainers point of view of binge drinking from within the society itself:

“This is a society where drinking and getting drunk is the norm or unwritten law and not being drunk is unnatural and abnormal. Outside of college when you are growing up, there is so much emphasis on staying off drugs and alcohol. You are labeled a deviant loser if you abuse these substances, but when you get to college, the opposite becomes the reality—you are labeled deviant if you don’t drink. I never thought . . . choos[ing] not to drink at college that I would be labeled as some kind of freak! I knew I was coming to a party school, but there is so much pressure to get wasted all of the time and it seems that almost every single activity revolves around booze . . . to fit in around here you have to hide your sobriety or otherwise students don’t accept you. You are treated differently—you stand out from the crowd like some goody-two-shoes or self-righteous saint!”

Stigmas and negative labels of deviant such as: “losers, freaks, pussies, and nerds,” (71, 2013) are often guided terms towards non-drinkers in a ‘wet’ world.  Kinney and Kinney (71, 2013) go on mentioning Ervin Goffman (1963), arguing that placing deviant labels on individuals negatively “marks” them through the looking glass self (defined by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902 that it’s what other’s perceive us to be, shining a light onto our own perceptions of self, guided by society and the ‘others’’ view points).

In “Sober as Deviant” by Herman-Kinney and Kinney they give negative reasons for students on a ‘wet’ campus to abstain from alcohol from personal guided research.  The research concluded these main points:

  1. Family Alcoholism (73, 2013)
  2. Personal, Negative Experiences with Alcohol (74, 2013)
  3. Desire to Remain in Control (75, 2013)

In “Sober as Deviant” [Herman-Kinney & Kinney] they give positive reasons for students on a ‘wet’ campus to abstain from alcohol, from personal guided research.  The research concluded these main points to be reasons for abstaining:

  1. Abstaining Role Models (76, 2013)
  2. Academic Identity (77, 2013)
  3. Athletic Identity (78, 2013)
  4. Religious Identity (78, 2013)

Herman-Kinney and Kinney later in the research found this information, to go on to explain their “Strategies for Stigma Management,” while staying sober on a ‘wet campus.’

Courtesy of sober Wet Universities & Dry Students; "Sober as Deviant" Party Cups

    1. Concealment and Passing (81-82, 2013)- As students try to cope with the settings they are placed in, the student tries to ‘pass’ as a ‘normal’ drinking student by using various props. They learn to fake their ‘drunkenness’ through various coping techniques, as it is stated in “Sober as Deviant.”
    2. Preventative Disclosure (87-90, 2013)- The data provided [Herman-Kinney & Kinney, 2013] shows two ways/reasons students abstain with this method.
  • Medical Disclaimers
  • Education


  1. Therapeutic Disclosure (90, 2013)- “Therapeutic disclosure, another form of identity talk, may be defined as the selective disclosure of a stigmatizing attribute to certain “trustworthy” others in order to renegotiate perceptions of their “failing”—in this case, their absti- nence or nondrinking behavior.”
  2. Capitulation (90-92)- “…Capitulation—had the least favorable outcome of all of the techniques.”
    1. “Capitulation refers to giving in, giving up, or otherwise succumbing to the social stigma applied by others.”

In discussion, this goes to conclude the very rare study and finding of labialization and stigmatization of, “Sober as Deviant.”  Many students struggle, but now a day, “Sober as Deviant” concludes that binge drinking on a college campus setting is the new-IN, and sober is most definitely deviant, but most certainly NOT wrong!



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