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NIDA. (2015, April 10). Hazing and Alcohol: Time to Break With “Tradition”. Retrieved from

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The NIDA Blog Team
April 10 2015
End Hazing banner

We all want to belong. Whether it’s to the chess club or the football team or a sorority or fraternity, belonging to a group of people who are bonded together gives us the feeling that we aren’t alone. In high school, and especially in college when people leave their hometowns and are trying to fit in to a new environment, these clubs can feel like a lifeline. And for many people, these groups become like family—you can be a “Sorority Sister” and “Fraternity Brother.”

But what’s the cost of joining? All too often, it’s going through an embarrassing and potentially dangerous initiation ritual—known as hazing.

Suspect Hazing?

Hazing can often be confidentially reported to school officials. There is also a national, toll-free, anti-hazing hotline at 1-888-NOT-HAZE (1-888-668-4293). Not sure if it’s hazing? Call anyway. Ask yourself whether you would tell a potential member about the activity before they joined.

What Is Hazing?

Basically, hazing is when an organized group participates in activities that involves harassment, humiliation, and/or physical and emotional abuse as a way of letting someone join their club, team, organization, etc.  Hazing can be violent and it can cause serious physical harm, including death in extreme cases. Some common forms of hazing include:

  • Drinking games (which often involve having people drink a lot of alcohol very quickly)
  • Sleep deprivation, kidnapping, beating a person up, or sexual abuse
  • Enduring harsh weather without proper clothing
  • Branding, tattooing, or piercing
  • Walking a “gauntlet” of people who have battering sticks and weapons

More than 50% of college students and 47% of high school students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing. It’s passed down from class to class. The hazed become the hazers…and the cycle of bad behavior continues.

Since 1970, at least one college student dies in the United States each year because of an initiation gone wrong. Studies have found that, in college, making people drink too much alcohol is the most common form of hazing. Alcohol also makes it easier to haze [PDF - 294 KB]. Being drunk helps current members feel less bad about abusing the new pledges.

See Someone Passed Out?

Immediate care of someone who has passed out

Check four “PUBS” signs to determine if the situation is an emergency:

  • Puking (while passed out)
  • Unresponsive to stimulation (pinch or shake)
  • Breathing (slow, shallow, or no breathing)
  • Skin (blue, cold, or clammy)

If even one of these signs is present, call 911. Do not wait—call 911.


And never leave someone alone to “sleep it off.” If someone has passed out, they have had a dangerous amount of alcohol and they should be monitored to make sure none of the symptoms mentioned occur.

Alcohol is also one of the ways people die from hazing. It’s what killed 18-year-old college freshman Lynn Gordon Bailey (“Gordie”). He participated in a hazing ritual that involved drinking too much alcohol, and 3 weeks into his first year at college, he died from that ritual. Gordie wasn’t a small guy—he was an athlete. Probably no one would have thought when they looked at him that he would die from drinking too much. But no matter how fit you are, if you drink too much alcohol too quickly for your body to process, your vital organs can shut down, and you can die. Hearing Gordie’s story may help people to think about what could have been done differently.

So What’s a Person To Do?

There’s no shame in saying no or standing up for yourself—but it’s usually easier to do before the hazing begins. Learn as much as you can about the pledging process for the group you want to join. Know that not every club, group, or house is going to ask you to do the same things. While it’s true that most people survive the pledging or initiation process, it’s equally true that for some people, the beatings or binge drinking have led to deaths.

Ideally, you’ll find a group whose initiation isn’t about humiliation. After all, do you really want to be part of a group that purposely hurts new members? Or tries to make them physically sick? Or that has racist chants? Or sexist websites?

Team building and other bonding exercises don’t have to be negative. Lots of groups organize other activities that people have to do to join the group—but it doesn’t cost them their dignity or risk their health or wellbeing. These include:

  • Doing community service
  • Going out for group events
  • Playing recreational games/sports
  • Organizing a fundraising event
  • Completing a ropes course, leadership courses, or other similar activities
  • Tutoring or mentoring

This list goes on and on—because there are always better alternatives to bullying, or hazing, or any form of abuse. And maybe it’s been a “tradition” to be hurtful and hateful—but we are not alone in thinking that it is time to break these traditions.

Tell is in the comments: How can teens help to change the hazing culture?

End Hazing logo courtesy of Adele H. Stamp Student Union Marketing Unit, University of Maryland.