The prices of a high life

The prices of a high life

Story by Emily Gresbrink

What could you buy for $501?

Quite a few things: multiple concert tickets, flat-screen television sets or the responsibility of paying the fine for possessing or using a fake ID in Eau Claire County.

In January 2012, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wisconsin as having the highest binge drinking rates in the nation. In the Feb. 2 issue of The Spectator, numbers showed that UW-Eau Claire has high numbers of binge drinkers.

First year graduate student Natalie Kibat was a resident assistant for two years in Oak Ridge. She saw her share of underage drinking incidents, as do many RAs.

“If they want to drink, I would tell them to be safe and make smart choices,” she said. “But often times, underclassmen can come to school and not know the implications of drinking.”

The implications are not just physical. With higher drinking numbers comes a higher financial cost. How much is this costing the state? How much is it costing students and the community?

Simply put, millions.

Kristin Hildebrand, a Reality Check 21 Partnership coordinator, works out of the Eau Claire County health department as part of an alliance for substance abuse prevention. She discussed some of the numbers associated with underage drinking, specifically the high fines.

“It is a concern that often times when underage students drink, they drink in excess,” she said. “And in my opinion, the fines for underage drinking and all of the fines associated aren’t as substantial as they should be.”

Hildebrand said the price for any adult providing alcohol to a minor is $452.50, a $20 increase from two years ago.

“That can be anyone over the age of 18,” she said. “Anyone providing alcohol to a person other than their child can be fined. So, in theory, an 18-year-old student providing for a 17-year-old can be fined.”

As an RA, Kibat saw repercussions of students being fined for alcohol consumption related charges.

“I’ve had a couple angry students; some get really upset,” she said, “but usually they say, ‘What will happen next? Will my parents find out?’”

Prices for underage drinking tickets in Eau Claire start at $176 and go up from there, depending on how many underage tickets exist on the offender’s record. More tickets, Hildebrand said, means a higher fine.

“In 2012, that 100-some dollars is not that big of a deal for young people. So, if you get a ticket, and it is less than 200, does that teach you a lesson? I’m not sure,” Hildebrand said.

Kibat said it depends on the situation of the student whether or not a ticket will stop the drinking.

“If that (cost) is high enough,” she said, “ it could be seen as a big repercussion of their actions.”

According to a study conducted in 2010 by the Eau Claire County health department, it was estimated that underage drinking cost the community more than $30 million.

Statewide, drinking problems caused by underage students caused nearly $1 billion in taxpayer dollars, according to findings from the Pacific Institute for Research in 2010.

The indvidual effects outside of fines are head-pounding as well: the Pacific Institute found that on average, a Wisconsin student spends nearly $1,800 annually on alcohol.

“These (high costs) are the kind of things that jump out to me,” Jennifer Lee, director of the Center for Alcohol Studies and Education at UW-Eau Claire, said in a Feb. 1 interview in regards to the numbers. “This money thing is shocking.”

Lee made a presentation to Student Senate about the institutional costs. The presentation said that if 10 percent of freshmen lost each year left due to alcohol related factors (failing classes, dropping out), it would cost the school just less than half a million dollars.

With an average of 39 percent of freshman binge drinking, the chance for losing money — both institutionally and personally — increases.

Lee posed a question of reflection for those who choose to drink, either underage or legally. The cost of high-risk drinking hits more than just an individual’s wallet.

“Does the average student know,” Lee said, “that the state of Wisconsin spends just as much on the cost of underage drinking as they do on their education?”