Binge Drinking on Americas Campuses
What do a DWI ticket, frequent memory lapses, falling behind in schoolwork, and unplanned sexual activity have in common? If you guessed that these are the most common results of binge drinking by college students, you would be correct (Thompson, J.J. 63). A recent survey revealed that almost half of college students engage in “binge drinking”, and half of those who binge drink do so regularly (McCormick, John; Kalb, Claudia 89). It is not the half that drinks responsibly that needs addressing or programs targeting them; it is the other half of students that engage in so-called binge drinking. This paper aims to discuss both the scope of binge drinking on the campuses of Americas colleges and universities and techniques used to combat it. Binge drinking is defined as, “five or more drinks for a man at any one time within a two-week period, four or more drinks for a woman” (Thompson, J.J. 63). Binge drinking is rampant on today’s colleges and university campuses. Schools affected are both large and small, just as they are both urban and rural.
At the same time America has managed to keep the same percentage of its students from drinking entirely for the last five years, binge drinking has been on the rise (Thompson, J.J. 63). While 49 percent of college students binge, only 28 percent of their non-college counterparts do (McCormick, John; Kalb, Claudia 89), clearly illustrating the divide that exists between students and non-students. These figures are upsetting in that one would expect universities to be the breeding ground for new leaders and innovative thinkers in society while these figures make today’s college campuses look like nothing more than National Lampoon’s Animal House- a drunken debauchery.
Consider these facts: For women, this study found that 80% of sorority house residents had binged during the last 2 weeks prior to this study compared with 58% of non-resident sorority women, and 35% of non-Greek women. As for the men, the study found that during the previous two weeks, 86% of fraternity house residents had binged compared to 71% of non-resident fraternity men and 45% for non-Greek men (Core Institute pars. 1-2). If there has ever been a clearer cut case for reformation of the Greek system, it has never been presented. This problem was tragically brought to light in 1996 with the media attention given to the death of a Louisiana State University student who died in the fraternity house from acute alcohol poisoning. Tragically, the numbers of students dying of alcohol related causes are rising steadily each year.
With the ever increasing costs of higher education, one would think that students would be committed to gaining the best education possible; but a 1996 study leaves little doubt that a student’s GPA can be directly influenced by the amount of alcohol consumed. Nearly 37,000 students at 66 four-year colleges and universities were surveyed about their drinking habits and it was revealed that students with an A average consume a little more than three drinks per week, B students have almost five drinks per week, C students average more than six drinks per week and students getting Ds or Fs consume an average of nine drinks per week (Core Institute par. 6). The statistics are alarming, yet most students still are not listening. In addition, A higher percentage of binge drinkers than non-binge drinkers reported having experienced alcohol-related problems since the beginning of the school year. Frequent binge drinkers were 22 times more likely than non-binge drinkers to have:
Fallen Behind in School Work
Engaged in Unplanned Sexual Activity
Not Used Protection When Having Sex
Gotten in Trouble With Campus Police
Been Hurt or Injured
Driven a Car After Drinking
Used Other Drugs
(Booze News pars. 1-15).
In addition, 90% of all violence on college campuses is alcohol related, 80% of all males who commit date rape on college campuses are drunk or have been drinking, 55% of all victims of college date rape/rape are drunk or have been drinking, 55% of all successful suicides on college campuses begin with a drink, and the number one cause of death for all males from the ages of 16 to 25 are all alcohol related incidents (Booze News pars. 1-15).
This is clear and disgusting evidence of both the scope and type of problems that binge drinking causes. It is tragic that our nation’s schools did not have the forward thinking needed to seize the opportunity to cut this epidemic out in its infancy.
Unfortunately, schools within our particular geographic region have been targeted as having some of the most extreme problems with bingeing. A Harvard University study showed that schools in the Midwest and North Central US have the highest instances of bingeing on campus (Iowa State pars 1-3).
Illinois State University was one of the firsts in the Midwest to distribute a survey of its own to students. It not only questioned students drinking habits, but also the effects other students drinking on them, also known as second hand bingeing. A 1995 ISU survey that polled 275 undergraduate students during classes, asked students whether someone else’s alcohol use had affected them in the last 30 days. Twenty-three percent of the students responding said they have experienced a disruption in studying. The same percentage said they had their sleep disturbed and 19 percent had been insulted in some way by a person or persons under the influence of alcohol (Iowa State pars. 14-18).
A recent study casts an interesting pallor on these American students: they are simply a product of flawed societal teachings to adolescents about alcohol and its use and misuse.
Ironically, in the United States today, we follow the method of alcohol education found least successful in the Vaillant study. That is, alcohol is grouped with illicit drugs, and children are taught that abstinence is the only answer. Yet children are aware that most adults drink, and many drink alcohol themselves on the sly. Moreover, drinking will be legal and widely available to them within a few short years. Clearly, many young people find the abstinence message confusing and hypocritical. (LA Times)
While excessive drinking remains a small problem in some places but sadly commonplace in others, it can be addressed. Some colleges have instituted programs targeted towards awareness of the health dangers of overindulging that have proven very effective in combating binge drinking; others have implemented an ad campaign targeted towards awareness. Both seem to be effective. However, an ideal solution would seem to be a system that implements both of these principles while also adding a third. This third aspect would be to make the students aware of the health consequences of excessive drinking. This epidemic can be reduced through use of the three methods outlined above. If students are informed of the legal, health related, and social ramifications of binge drinking, students already engaged in this behavior may be coaxed into quitting it, while at the same time, those at risk may never begin it.
What needs to be instituted at colleges and universities that take pride in their image in the community and their overall safety is a program that would utilize existing resources while at the same time reaching the maximum number of students possible. Resources used would include health faculty and departmental faculty in order to educate students about the health-related consequences of excessive drinking, while using groups like the police and campus safety to illuminate the legal repercussions of such actions.
These techniques would all be accompanied by a campaign of ads and statements that would reinforce to students that binge drinking is not normal. Taking these actions would inform students from all perspectives, while letting them know that equal amounts of people are not over drinking. This would let students know that it is neither the norm, nor acceptable from any standpoint to engage in this self-destructive behavior.
The first step to a significant reduction in abusive drinking is the implementation of a program that informs students of the legal consequences of drinking, especially in underage youth. These types of presentations may get attention from college age students, especially when there is evidence that the rules and laws in place will be enforced vigorously. It is essential to clearly outline the ramifications of specific activities, such as drunken driving, public intoxication, and the use of fake IDs. The police would be an effective tool in gaining student respect for these rules and also for lending credibility to the ramifications outlined to them by college officials.
Students have a certain fear of having a permanent criminal record and if they are told that if in fact a liquor law is violated they may face a criminal charge, this may also be a deterrent. These are not simply idle threats, however, taking recent trends in alcohol related arrests on campuses countrywide. Alcohol arrests rose to 16,237 — the largest percentage increase in five years (CNN par. 3).
An example of the implementation of these programs would be a mandatory meeting or group session within the freshman orientation program that brought in a police officer and a campus safety official. The police officer could inform students of the laws concerning alcohol abuse, the methods by which those laws are enforced, and the consequences for violating them. The campus safety official could tell students about the school’s policy on underage drinking; this would include the school’s disciplinary policies and could also include the consequences for repeated violations. These could range from suspension, community service programs, or dismissal from the institution.
The second aspect of these measures to counteract binge drinking would be to inform students of the health risks associated with this behavior. This is another program that could be implemented during freshman orientation. A health staff member could visit the groups and give an informal presentation about the detrimental effects of excessive drinking. Slides, posters, or pictures could be employed to further emphasize the effects on organs such as the heart, lungs, and liver. The staff member could let students know about the services offered by the campus health center and also give students time to express concerns or ask questions. This informational session would then need to be followed up by frequent seminars or educational sessions that would reinforce these ideas; these programs could continue throughout the student’s career at the school.
The last segment of this preventative program would be that of an intensive ad campaign and awareness agenda to inform students that binge drinking is not normal behavior, nor is it cool nor acceptable. This would involve a comprehensive ad campaign targeted both for students that already engage in this type of behavior and also to those who may be at risk for engaging in binge drinking. These ads would need to address the current drinkers in order to inform them that their behavior is not acceptable, neither by peers nor by adults. Second, they would need to address students at risk for engaging in this type of behavior in order to let them know that there is not peer pressure to engage in that type of behavior. Quite the contrary, half of students still do not engage in binge drinking.
This type of ad campaign and awareness program has had considerable success at many Universities, notably at Northern Illinois University, as mentioned previously. Michael Haines of NIU has implemented the use of advertising to show students that many do drink responsibly (McCormick, John; Kalb, Claudia 89).
“In 1989, 45 percent of the school’s students said they binged–but on average guessed that 70 percent of their peers did. Nine years later Haines can point to some successes. Students now estimate more reasonably that 33 percent of them binge–and the share who actually do has plummeted to 25 percent (McCormick, John; Kalb, Claudia 89).
Another example of the implementation of these techniques has been at the University of North Carolina, with a first-of-its-kind research and advocacy communications project to reduce binge drinking among college students and improve the quality of life on its college campus (UNC Study, pars. 1-24).
This will be funded by $570,000 grant from the Park Foundation, and aims to generate a hard-hitting, attention-grabbing, potentially humorous and highly visible campaign reaching three classes of incoming first-year students, beginning last fall (UNC Study pars. 1-24). This is clear evidence that advertising campaigns can and do work.
The average college spends only 13,000 dollars yearly on its alcohol awareness program (McCormick, John; Kalb, Claudia 89). This is a pittance compared to the money poured into many other policies and programs (Statistical Abstracts 1998). What this suggests is that either most colleges feel that this is an issue that is not in need of serious attention or they are under the impression that there is no method for effectively combating this type of drinking. Neither of these assumptions is true. Colleges that have instituted comprehensive awareness programs have often seen substantial declines in their incidences of binge drinking (UNC Study pars. 15-17). Between 1989 and 1998, Northern Illinois University’s percentage of binge drinkers dropped 20 percent through use of an ad campaign to alert students that binge drinking was not the norm (McCormick, John; Kalb, Claudia 89). Thus, if colleges become more willing to become pro-active on this issue, they too may see declines such as NIU has experienced.
Devoting considerable time and money to alcohol awareness programs may not be a challenge many colleges want to face, however it is something many need to do to ensure long term success and wellness for a large portion of their student bodies. The numbers are overwhelming- nearly half of the nations students engaging in such self-destructive behavior: clearly a problem of sickening proportions. Students who engage in binge drinking not only face immediate dangers such as legal consequences and action by the school but also the peripheral consequences such as unplanned sexual activity, fighting, or falling behind in school (McCormick, John; Kalb, Claudia 89). This epidemic can be reduced through use of the methods outlined above. Colleges that have implemented schools implement forward thinking programs. If students are informed of the legal, health related, and social ramifications of binge drinking, students already engaged in this behavior may be coaxed into quitting it, while at the same time those at risk may never begin it. This would be a victory for all involved.
Booze News. Booze News Newsletter. February 2,1999. http://www.cspinet.org/booze/collfact.htm
Colleges and Drinking. CNN Online. February 23, 1999. http://cnn.com/US/9805/02/campus.crime/index.html
New Study Finds Bingeing. Core Institute. September 1, 1999. http://www.alphaomicronpi.org/Article/alcohol02.html
Drugs- Indiana University. Indiana University. February 23, 1999. http://www.drugs.indiana.edu/publications/ncadi/primer/binge.htm
Iowa State Daily. February 2, 1999. http://www.daily.iastate.edu/volumes/Fall95/Dec-01-95/fr3-hw.html
LA Times Website. February 28, 1999. http://peele.sas.nl/lib/latimes030196.html
McCormick, John; Kalb, Claudia. Bellying Up to the Bar; binge drinking remains a major problem on many college campuses, according to a Harvard University study. Newsweek 21 September 1998: 89.
New UNC Initiave. February 28, 1999.http://www.cspinet.org/new/aluncorn.htm
Thompson, J.J. Plugging the Kegs: students benefit when colleges limit excessive drinking; alcohol abuse by college students. US News & World Report January 1998: 63.