July 5th, 2007 16:00 EST
Above the Influence
Danny Bianchi, a University of South Florida senior, logs on to MySpace and checks out new messages and picture comments. He scrolls through a couple of his friends` pages, noticing if they set up a new layout or if they changed their default picture. He clicks on a co-worker`s profile. He glances at his co-worker`s new pictures and sees several shots of a raucous party. Everyone from the Longhorn Steakhouse staff is there, drinking from red plastic cups and laughing-- everyone except Danny.
Bianchi knows that his friends at work have parties without him because he does not drink alcohol, but he cannot help occasionally feeling left out.
Students like Bianchi who choose to abstain from drinking alcohol forge a path in the opposite direction of mainstream culture and common behaviors. These students intently stick to their choices that are grounded on a personal or spiritual background, despite minor slip-ups along the way.
They are also in the minority. The drinking rate of people age 18 to 25 is 61 percent, according to a 2002 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Bianchi feels how small that minority is at family gatherings. Bianchi said, "My mom and my aunt are the only people in my family, beside me, who don`t drink. Even my cousin who just turned 16 drinks. My younger sister drank recently. I feel lonely sometimes."
Bianchi doesn`t drink because of the damage done to his family. "I knew, logically, that if I drank it would affect me in the long term, but my defining moment was when my parents got divorced," Bianchi explained.
Bianchi`s mom divorced his dad because of his excessive drinking. It could have been prevented, it wasn`t like an accident or cancer," Bianchi said.
Alcoholism also runs in Megan Coss`s family. Coss, a UCF graduate, decided not to drink socially until she turned 21" which she did last August. Before that time, she said that it is a part of her personality to be a stickler with rules. Drinking underage did not sit well with Coss.
Yet, her friends did not pressure her to drink. Coss did not struggle with her conviction to avoid alcohol because she did not attend parties where it would be served.
"I have a great social life," Coss said. "It just doesn`t involve getting drunk."
She knows that it is a typical college trend to drink alcohol and that never surprised her. It was usually the other way around.
"When people found out I didn`t drink alcohol, they`d become wary of me because it`s abnormal [to refuse alcoholic drinks]," she said.
Coss said that the friends she did make looked past her unusual decision.
Although Coss`s convictions are strong, she admitted that she did drink a few times when she was underage. At her apartment with her roommates, Coss drank some European alcohol that her roommate had brought back with her. She said she didn`t even get a buzz let alone become drunk.
Coss and Bianchi don`t claim to be perfect, but do their best to live by their beliefs.
Kaliela Sprague, a UCF junior, can relate. She found herself breaking her rules by taking a sip of a screwdriver in the midst of an emotional upheaval.
Before her freshman year at UCF, her step-mom made a bet with Sprague that if she refrained from drinking all four years of college, Sprague would receive $2,000 after her graduation. In June 2007, though, Sprague found herself swallowing the alcoholic drink at her stepmother`s funeral. Her step-mom died from cancer.
"After I drank half a cup, I decided it wasn`t worth it. I don`t know how my step-mom would feel about me drinking at her funeral," Sprague said, with a soft laugh. "I don`t think she`d mind."
Sprague said she knows God is working in this time of her life, and that good will come from this loss.
It`s with these faith-based convictions, Sprague came to decide to refrain from alcohol and, at the very least, avoid becoming drunk. "God has put in me a way that He would want me to live, and that`s without drinking," Sprague said.
The substance abuse organization reported that adults who attended religious services 25 times or more in the past year were less likely to have used alcohol in the past month than those who attended religious services fewer than 25 times.
Matt Doran, Sprague`s boyfriend, also shares Sprague`s beliefs and supports her in her decision. Sprague needs that support when people tell her she`s a nun, that she must be perfect; or, when her brothers, Anthony and Camden, don`t understand Sprague`s beliefs.
Sprague and Coss believe that the messages in the Bible teach them to avoid drinking in excess.
Bianchi said, "I`ve been negatively affected socially with non-Christian friends, but I think not drinking alcohol has helped me be a better Christian. Even if I wasn`t a Christian, I still wouldn`t want to drink, though."
For their faith and for themselves, these three students do their best to abstain from drinking alcohol. Although their choices sometimes leave them on the outside of typical college experiences, none feel any great remorse.
"In the end, wanting to be accepted is the reason why people drink in the first place," Bianchi said.
Although Bianchi, Coss and Sprague know their peers respect their decision, they can still sense the disbelieving glances. And, they all gladly receive those glances for the satisfaction their faith and commitments give them.