Report: Excessive drinking increasing on U.S. campuses

By Whitney Blair Wyckoff

Excessive drinking among college students may be on the rise.

According to a study called “Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities” there was no marked decline in drinking between 1993 and 2001, but there has been a sharp increase of excessive drinkers.

The study, which was conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, found that 49 percent, or 3.8 million, full-time college students binge drink, defined as having consumed five or more drinks on any one occasion in the past two weeks, or abuse drugs.

“Despite growing understanding of the harms caused by substance abuse among college students and increased information on what can be done to address the problem, the culture of abuse has, in fact, intensified on college campuses,” said Susan Foster, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse’s vice president and director of policy research and analysis.

The results represent more than four years of research, surveys, interviews and focus groups and are the most extensive examination of substance abuse in the nation’s colleges ever conducted, according to a press release.

In the first three months of 2007, 399 drinking tickets had been issued by the Champaign Police Department on campus. That’s nearly twice the amount last year during the same period of time.

But Sgt. Scott Friedlein of the Champaign Police Department said that it doesn’t necessarily follow that University students are drinking more.

“A lot of variables come into play,” he said, adding that discrepancies in the number of tickets issued might simply be a factor of the amount of resources police will allocate toward underage drinking.

He said that the department has had a lot of success with a program called “Follow the Keg.” In this program, police monitor the sale of kegs more closely.

Friedlein said that “purchase of kegs by minors” or “kegs delivered to residences where minors live” make up 75 percent of the arrests from this program.

While there are negative health effects to excessive drinking, Foster said it could affect academic performance and have unfavorable legal ramifications.

Foster said that combating this issue would require the cooperation of many different players.

“The need for leadership extends beyond college and university administrators to faculty and staff, trustees, alumni, parents, students and policy makers,” Foster said.

She said parents could play a major role in preventing their college student from drinking. According to the report, students who said that their parents would be upset to learn they had been abusing alcohol had significantly lower rates of abuse.

Foster also said that marketing tactics contribute to the substantial rise in excessive alcohol use.

“The predatory marketing practicing of the alcohol industry toward college students must be curtailed,” Foster said.

Foster also said colleges need to be more proactive about combating excessive drinking, adding that educational institutions have an obligation to protect students from exposure to alcohol and drug abuse, just as they would protect them from exposure to dangerous toxins like asbestos or radon.

Colleges continue “to pass such behavior off as a harmless rite of passage and subtly condoning it,” Foster said.

For example, when schools cancel Friday classes or allow student bars on campus, they jeopardize achieving high academic standards.

“They cannot ignore this obligation, given the compelling and growing body of evidence of the devastating health and social consequences of use and abuse of these drugs,” Foster said.