EAST LANSING, MICH. - Alexea Hankin gets mixed reactions to her decision not to drink alcohol.
Sometimes, it's confusion: How could she not imbibe at Michigan State University, given its long-standing party school reputation?
Sometimes, she's asked to play beer pong, her partner assuming she’ll be more able to sink cups thanks to her sobriety.
“I’m actually not very good,” Hankin admitted.
Others are supportive. Because Hankin, 20, is far from the only MSU student who chooses not to drink.
In fact, there are more every year.
Survey data shows more of today’s students are staying sober than college students were a decade ago.
Back in 2006, only about 23% of MSU students surveyed as part of the National College Health Assessment reported never drinking or not drinking within the previous month. Last year, that number was about 30%.
The average number of drinks consumed the last time students partied is down, too, from about 5 drinks in 2006 to three and a third in 2016, according to the survey.
Don't believe the data? Ask Michael Krueger, the general manager at Crunchy's. He said students are increasingly choosing one or two craft beers over multiple cheap, light beers.
"People are choosing quality over quantity," he said, and they're spending less overall.
Hankin chose not to drink because she saw family members stumble as a result of alcohol dependence. Witnessing her family's collective disappointment when a loved one got a DUI pushed her away from alcohol at an early age.
Exactly why students today aren’t drinking like their forebearers is up for debate, according to Dennis Martell, director of Health Promotion at MSU.
Alcohol use among high school students has been declining for 25 years, according to the Center for Disease Control and Preventions' Youth Risk Behavior Survey. In 2015, the latest year the survey was conducted, 59% of high schoolers in Michigan said they’d tried alcohol at least once. That's down from 74% in 2005.
For today's college students, who came of age at a time when having a smart phone was the rule rather than the exception, Martell pegs technology as the biggest driver of alcohol’s decline in popularity.
“We have always, for last 25 to 30 years at least, thought of alcohol as a social lubricant that helps you meet and talk to people,” Martell said.
Today, with social media and text messages, students no longer need to go to bars or parties to keep up with the campus social life. With dating apps, they no longer need to leave the house to flirt.
Just 9.9% of last year's cohort of incoming freshmen across the country reported partying more than five hours per week, according to the Higher Education Research Institute's Cooperative Institutional Research Program. That's down from 20.9% of incoming freshmen in 2007.
Heavy social media use has skyrocketed over the same period of time. Only 18.9% of freshmen surveyed in 2007 reported using social media more than five hours per week. Among last year's freshmen, 40.9% reported using social media more than five hours per week, with 12% using it more than 15 hours per week.
Police data seems to bear out the notion that things have changed.
East Lansing police made 10 arrests for minors in possession between Aug. 24 and 28, the days surrounding MSU move in, down from 19 during the same period in 2014. Minor in possession citations are also down, from 70 in 2014 to five this year.
Annual drunk driving arrests have dropped, too, from 623 in 2011 to 224 in 2016, said East Lansing Police Lt. Steve Gonzalez.
MSU Police Department data shows similar declines.
Macy Riutta, an 18-year-old freshman from Calumet, drank in high school. She blames a lack of things to do in her small Upper Peninsula hometown.
But, between classes, working and getting involved in student groups, she doesn’t think drinking will fit into her schedule.
“I’ve only been here two days and already I’ve found plenty to do besides drinking,” she said.
Students asked about the decline in drinking offered a few different theories. Greater awareness of the potential consequences of drinking - alcohol poisoning and drunk driving accidents among them – was the most common.
Hankin, who wrote a column about her decision not to drink, said she’s received a lot of positive feedback since it was published. She said she’s become more comfortable at parties where alcohol is being served now that’s she’s been to a few.
“I can still have fun without the alcohol.”
© 2017 Lansing State Journal