Binge drinking plagues campuses

BATON ROUGE, La. (U-WIRE) – College students across the nation show an increased interest in a dubious but persistent extracurricular activity: binge drinking.

According to a report released March 15 by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 40 percent of full-time college students – about 3.1 million people – binge drink. Binge drinking is the consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks in a single session.

More indicative of this trend than the proportion of binge-drinking students, which changed little throughout the years featured in the report, are the findings of increased frequency and intensity in students’ drinking habits. The report by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to combat substance abuse, found that between 1993 and 2001 the number of students who binge drink frequently increased by 16 percent, and students who drink 10 or more times per month was up 25 percent.

Nancy Mathews, executive director of LSU’s Campus-Community Coalition for Change, said in an e-mail that these increases may be the product of several social forces, including the underestimation of the problem by the general public and the environment of social tolerance of drinking on college campuses.

The report laid some accountability at the feet of those whom CASA considers responsible for the perpetuation of this environment.

“College presidents, deans and trustees have facilitated a college culture of alcohol and drug abuse,” CASA president Joseph Califano Jr. said in a news release about the report. “Their acceptance of a status quo of rampant alcohol and other drug abuse puts the best and the brightest – and the nation’s future – in harm’s way.”

Michael Gilles, general education junior, suggested that the problem is an integral part of the social structure surrounding alcohol in the United States. Gilles, who has lived in the United States for five years, was born and raised in France, where the alcohol culture is more lax.

“I definitely think there’s a huge problem with the age limit in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s created this craze in young teens to drink and drink too much.”

The CASA report, titled “Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities,” also listed what it found to be consequences of student alcohol consumption. The report said there were 1,717 deaths on college campuses from alcohol-related injuries in 2001. Other consequences included in the report are incidents of injury, arrest, assault and rape.

Mathews said there are many academic consequences as well. She said excessive drinking disturbs brain activity, reduces the quality of the college environment and impedes academic progress.

The report called for action by all members of the community, particularly campus administrators.

“To change this culture, college and university presidents need help from parents, alumni, students, Greek and athletic organizations, state and federal governments,” said the Rev. Edward Malloy, chairman of the CASA Commission on Substance Abuse at Colleges and Universities II, in the news release.

Mathews agreed that faculty and administrators can play “significant roles” in reducing the problems stemming from alcohol overconsumption.

But some argue that the problem will not be solved by further isolating alcohol from young people.

“It’s taboo up until you turn 21, and that’s wrong,” Gilles said. “You’re never going to be able to hide from alcohol.”