Alcohol, the university and you

Kim Thompson

Kent State survey shows students’ drinking habits

Some students regret things they do because of drinking, according to a Spring 2004 survey of about 650 undergraduate students.

Credit: Andrew popik

Chris, a Kent State student, celebrated his friend’s 21st birthday with nearly 30 drinks and hazy memories.

He made it to midnight before blacking out.

When Chris, who asked that his last name be left out, woke up, friends told him he had been banging his head on a vacant apartment door and yelling for an ambulance at 4 a.m. They had started to keep track of all the beverages he consumed that night but lost count around 28.

More than half of all Kent State students reported that they recently engaged in high-risk drinking, according to a Spring 2004 survey of more than 650 undergraduate students. But the rates were higher for those in Greek organizations, those who lived off-campus, whites and males.

The survey, which focused on alcohol and drug use, was administered randomly to 657 students by Dennis Thombs in the Health Promotion Program, Scott Dotterer in the Office of College Health Behavior and Carrie Giovannone Raub in the Bureau of Research Training and Services.

While other surveys have shown college students don’t drink as frequently as perceived, this survey revealed when Kent State students do drink, many engage in high-risk drinking. For men, this meant consuming five or more drinks on at least one occasion in the previous two weeks. For women, it meant consuming four or more drinks in the same time frame.

Regrets from alcohol

The survey also revealed many students have done things they regret because of drinking.

The friend’s birthday party was the first time Chris had been told what he’d done while drunk, and said what his friends told him scared him.

“It scared me that my body was looking for an ambulance, but my mind had no idea,” Chris said.

Of the students surveyed who remembered what occurred, the problems they reported ranged from being injured to sexual activity.

Roughly one out of every seven respondents said he or she had sexual intercourse at least once since the beginning of the academic year with someone he or she would have avoided if sober. More than one out of four said he or she had at least one blackout after drinking.

About one out of five respondents said he or she drove one to two times per year after drinking. About one out of four said that once or twice a year he or she had ridden with a driver who had consumed alcohol.

The morning after the friend’s birthday party, Chris had an experience with drinking and driving. When he woke up, he was still under the influence. He drove home and passed out again.

Realizing the problem

The birthday party was the last time Chris was seriously drunk, he said, but he began drinking in high school.

According to the survey, more than half of the students in each class at Kent State said they began drinking in high school.

For Chris, it started on a school trip when he was 15. Drinking never evolved into a daily thing, and he said he didn’t recognize his drinking to be a problem.

“I realized I wasn’t managing my life the way I wanted to,” Chris said. “I realized something needed to change, and I wasn’t sure what.”

He went to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with a friend, but he didn’t go to seek help. He didn’t even realize he had a problem. But at that first meeting, he said, he had a moment of clarity.

“When I drank, I definitely couldn’t control myself,” Chris said. “I knew I didn’t have any control over it, and the alcohol was going to kill me eventually.”

Many consider the term “alcoholic” to mean someone who drinks alcohol frequently, but Chris is a recovering alcoholic and rarely drank on consecutive days.

“I’m a binge drinker; I never drank daily,” Chris said. “There are only a couple times throughout my career that I drank more than one day in a row.”

Rather than alcoholic being defined as the frequency of consumption, Chris said, an alcoholic should be defined according to one’s control over his or her drinking.

“It isn’t how often you drink; it’s the inability to stop,” Chris said. “When people think of alcoholics, they think of the bum on the corner. What they don’t realize is they’re everywhere.”

Chris has been sober for 18 months and said social situations can be tough.

“College students typically like to celebrate things by drinking,” Chris said. “People will go out, and there will be a big group of my friends to celebrate someone’s birthday party, and I’ll stay at home because I don’t want to be at the bar. It’s my choice.”

But the typical college celebration is what university officials would like to change.

University is helping out

Dotterer, who conducted the survey for Kent State, said as a result of the surveys, University Health Services has implemented various prevention strategies, including spreading awareness about substance use and providing activities free of substances for students.

As part of the awareness aspect of prevention, Dotterer said, University Health Services made presentations to the Greek community, hosts safe spring break week and hosts alcohol awareness week.

For alternative activities for students, Dotterer said, University Health Services has worked with the Student Recreation and Wellness Center to provide late night options for students.

Contact medicine reporter Kim Thompson at [email protected].