New School Year Means More Campus Drinking, Calls Home
> 9/12/2007 11:09:53 AM

This month, more than 15 million students from almost as many disparate backgrounds begin the fall semester at one of America's 2,500 four-year colleges and countless related post-secondary school institutions. And campus officials, education advocates and public health experts have undertaken the familarly monumental task of once again reminding them to resist the dangers of the number one health hazard hanging its shadow over their higher education: alcohol.

Despite the common knowledge that consuming alcohol in large quantities just might be detrimental to one's physical, psychological and circumstantial well-being, its negative effects remain striking. 42% of students stated in a recent poll that they drink beer "regularly or occasionally," but that number is certainly far lower than the reality on campus (unless beer has been overwhelmingly superseded by liquor as the choice device of intoxication). 600,000 students suffer injuries under alcohol's influence each year (nearly 2,000 of them fatal), and 700,000 fall victim to assault at the hands of an inebriated peer. 400,000 have unprotected sex on campus and 100,000 report being too drunk to recall whether the previous night's encounters were consenual. The fact that only one in four claim to have witnessed alcohol's adverse influence on their studies despite 31% qualifying as abusive drinkers is indeed remarkable.

Binge drinking on campus in neither new nor particularly more relevant today than it has been in the recent past. In case one may be led to believe that previous decades were the very embodiment of puritan restraint: "Back in the 1970s, before [Wisconsin] raised its drinking age to 21 from 18, university snack bars served beer, which could be bought with a meal card."

In responding to the recurrent crisis, many schools have signed on to include mandatory (if insufficiently brief) alcohol education courses in their welcome packages for all incoming students. These courses often consist of 2-3 hour online surveys and information sessions regarding the social and physical effects of drinking that aim to assess the given student's alcohol IQ. How much sway do these programs hold among students, and will the "self-reflection" they claim to promote serve to remedy bad habits? While many report that AlcoholEdu and related online services "changed [their] entire outlook on drinking," many others see them as yet another "at least we tried" authoritarian play at saving face by their respective institutions. And students do not have to demonstrate  statistical mastery to pass these tests; participation is satisfactory. At least the process makes their parents and the readers of related news stories feel better about our college students developing into responsible drinkers who know the importance of moderation and the foul consequences of excess. Doesn't it?

In case these surveys fail to be the cure-alls we'd all like them to be, what policy could possibly serve as an effective deterrent to persuade newly "liberated" 18-year-olds from doing the naughty things they're wont to do? The time-tested answer is to...wait for it...

call their parents.

Ah yes. Never underestimate the power of that proverbial call to mom and dad, alerting them to Johnny or Janie's problematic attraction to the drink. Many schools automatically notify by phone the parents of any student who requires detox or faces charges of drunken misbehavior. But in some cases, deans reserve the right to call even in lesser cases of observable intoxication. The success of these programs is difficult to measure; though officials claim that the number of repeat offenders has declined in schools where the strictest measures are applied and that the vast majority of offending students go on to complete their degrees, binge drinking statistics on a whole are not going down. So if educating kids about alcohol's ill effects or threatening to call their parents doesn't work, what can we do? It would appear that stricter enforcement of alcohol policies is the easiest way to ensure lower numbers. It isn't enough to simply tell them not to drink and file their failure to heed warnings under youthful exuberance. Once they realize that the consequences are real, they will think a little more carefully about when to end the next round of recreational boozing. Or not. But the fight can't be abandoned, whatever the circumstances.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy