March 19, 2005 — -- For many high school and college students, spring break is the mother of all parties. From Panama City, Fla., to Cancun, Mexico, young people say spring break means drinking, partying and "hooking-up."
As one college student celebrating spring break in Cancun said, "Basically you come down, hang out for a week, get wasted."
Dr. Drew Pinsky, an adolescent psychiatrist, calls spring break the "Super Bowl of hook-ups" and warns there are some potentially dangerous consequences of all this "fun," including sexually transmitted diseases and alcohol-related accidents and violence.
"The businesses are playing into this pathological behavior of the young people," said Pinsky. "They are giving them unlimited alcohol and access to rooms … so they can have sex together."
MTV and other popular media feed into the insatiable appetite of hard-partying spring breakers, Pinsky said. In an episode of MTV's show "Total Request Live" taped in Cancun over spring break, girls and boys in bathing suits danced under a 6-foot Margarita piñata.
"Print and TV glamourize spring break, glamourize the whole hook-up phenmenon and the sexual acting out," said Pinsky.
But behind the glamorous façade hide some dark and potentially dire consequences.
"We have unconstrained casual sexual contacts, increased risk of sexually transmitted disease," said Pinksy. "People [are] … using Ecstasy and other stimulants that are damaging to people."
Binge drinking is common, according to the Journal of American College Health -- 18 drinks a day for guys and 10 for girls.
In a survey released this week, the National Institutes of Health said alcohol-related assaults have hit 600,000 cases a year and alcohol-related deaths among college students have jumped by 13 percent.
Pinsky said parents and schools need to step in to educate students about these dangers, but some parents say all their warnings and advice can sometimes fall on deaf ears.
Nan and Frank Guglielmi's 19-year-old son, Andrew, died when he fell from a hotel balcony while on a spring break vacation in Panama City, Fla., five years ago. Andrew had been drinking and had a significant blood-alcohol content, said his parents.
But Frank Guglielmi said he counseled Andrew and his friends about potential spring break dangers, going so far as to travel with his son and their friends to Panama City the two years before Andrew's death.
"We went through the whole gamut of the kinds of situations that they might find themselves in and how to handle themselves," he said. "So I thought he had a little bit of a sense what was could happen down there."
The Guglielmis, in part, blame media coverage of the "beach brawls" of spring break and what they say is the greed of merchants in areas that cater to young partiers.
"If I had known what a war zone we were sending our child into, I would never sent him," said Nan Guglielmi. "It was a senseless death and a loss of a wonderful future."
The Guglielmis say that if students do go on spring break, parents should try to find enriching alternatives to partying on the vacation and advise them to follow the buddy system.
But the Guglielmis say the best advice for parents is simply not to let their kids go on spring break.
"Don't send them," said Frank Guglielmi. "Recognize that it's a terribly dangerous situation where they're very much compromised. Even if they're not drinking or doing drugs, the people around them are. So it ups the ante for any potential accident that could happen to the kids."