Monday, March 25, 2002

Campus binge drinking unabated

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There were as many binge drinkers on the nation's college campuses last year as there were nearly a decade ago, despite student behavior changes that researchers thought would drive down alcohol use. That and other findings are being released today in the 2001 Harvard School of Public Health college alcohol study.

        In a comprehensive look at the effects of binge and underage drinking on campuses, the research includes survey results from more than 10,000 full-time students from 119 four-year colleges in 38 states and the District of Columbia.

        About 44 percent were classified as binge drinkers in the 2001 survey, similar to results in 1993, 1997 and 1999.

        “The drinking style on campus is still one of excess,” said Henry Wechsler, director of college alcohol studies at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead researcher on the project.

        “If you are a traditional college student and you drink, the odds are seven in 10 that you are a binge drinker.”

        In the study, a traditional college student is defined as someone between the ages of 18 and 23 who does not live with his or her parents. A binge drinker is a man who has had more than five — or a woman who has had more than four — drinks in a row at least once in the two weeks before students completed the survey questionnaire.

        Joe Doup, a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati and a Phi Kappa Tau fraternity pledge, said he wasn't surprised by the results.

        “A lot of people I know do that,” the Mount Vernon native said. “It depends on what night of the week it is. Everybody just goes out and gets hammered on Friday nights. There's a lot of pressure on students, I think, to drink.

        “People go to college to have fun and study. They think drinking is a part of that. Sometimes it is.”

        Tristate college officials say they are continually updating policies and creating new programs to control binge drinking.

  The 2001 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study included responses from more than 10,000 full-time students at 119 four-year colleges in 38 states and the District of Columbia. Neither states nor schools were listed by name for confidentiality reasons.
  Among the findings:
  • Students younger than 21 consumed almost half (48 percent) of the alcohol that all undergraduate students reported drinking.
  • There was a 31 percent increase in the number of binge drinkers at all-women's schools.
  • Colleges where a key number of laws regulating underage drinking were in effect had significantly less underage and binge drinking.
  • Colleges and cities with regulations restricting the volume of alcohol sold or consumed — prohibiting pitcher sales and happy hours, for example — had lower rates of binge drinking.
  • Among those who live in substance-free dorms, only 36 percent binge drink. But almost 75 percent of students who live in a fraternity or sorority house were binge drinkers.
        “A lot of times they don't stop at four or five,” said Sylvia Bessegato, associate vice president for student development at Xavier University. “That's the issue.”

        Although more students said they were living in substance-free housing and fewer are members of fraternities and sororities — the traditional center for binge drinking on campuses — the numbers of binge drinkers did not decline.

        “It seems that other powerful forces are driving the college binge drinking phenomenon, which appears to withstand many of these supposedly protective factors,” Dr. Wechsler said.

        Researchers said that traditional efforts — such as special college courses, fliers and signs — did not decrease heavy alcohol consumption. But colleges and communities with stringent laws restricting both the volume of alcohol sold and underage drinking had significantly fewer problems.

        Those laws ranged from lowered statewide legal blood alcohol levels of .08 to regulation of billboard advertising to prohibiting pitcher sales to banning open containers in public.

        Living arrangements make a difference, too, Dr. Wechsler said.

        Students who live with their parents and those who live in substance-free dorms are less likely to binge drink.

        Northern Kentucky University attributes its relatively low number of alcohol-related incidents — eight arrests and 90 violations in 2000 — to the school's dry campus policy.

        “Even if you're 21 you still can't have alcohol on campus,” said Jeff Butler, director of NKU's public safety department. “It's not a big problem here.”

        Xavier University officials started Project Parent CARE last year with grant money from the Health Foundation of Greater Cin cinnati. It's a program that involves parents talking to their college children about alcohol use.

        “We know from research that it really does make a difference when parents talk to their college-age kids,” said Oliver Birckhead, director of Xavier's counseling center.

        But according to the Harvard survey, students say administrators should do even more to curb binge drinking, including:

        • Limiting fraternity drinking.

        • Reining in those who throw keg parties.

        • Banning alcohol advertisements.

        “The majority of all students backed each of these policies — and even a majority of underage students — backed cracking down on underage drinking,” Dr. Wechsler said.

        “College students may be well ahead of college administrators and community leaders in supporting tough measures to deal with this problem.”


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