Frequent Binge Drinking Continues on College Campuses Nationwide
By Meghan Fay, Assistant Editor

In 1999, two of every five students – or 44 percent – who participated in a recent Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study were binge drinkers.The findings are based on the study’s 1999 survey of more than 14,000 college students at 119 nationally representative, four-year colleges in 39 states. The study, which was released last week, highlights that the prevalence of frequent binge drinking is on the rise across college campuses and that the number of frequent binge drinkers has increased by 14 percent from 1993 to 1999.

Binge drinkers are defined as men who have had five or more – or women who have had four or more – drinks in a row at least once in the previous two weeks before completing the survey. Frequent binge drinkers are those who have consumed these amounts at least three times in the previous two weeks. In addition to consuming over two thirds of all alcohol consumed by college students; binge drinkers account for more than three fifths of the most serious alcohol-related problems on campus, such as vandalism, drinking and driving, getting into trouble with the campus police and being injured.

Survey Tracks College Student Behavior

The 1999 survey is telling when compared to the 1993 and 1997 surveys. “We found that overall binge drinking has remained constant between 1993 and 1999, but that the most extreme binge drinking has increased. At the same time there was an increase in the number of abstainers and a large number of students chose to live in alcohol-free dormitories,” said Henry Wechsler, Ph.D., Director of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study. 

The prevalence of abstainers increased from 15 percent in 1993 to 19 percent in 1999 (a 25 percent increase). “The increase in abstainers may have to do with that they were repelled by the extremeness of drinking on campus,” said Wechsler, whose study shows increases in the intensity of drinking as well. He suggests that when the abstainers are taken out of the social drinking scene the students who are left have no moderating factor in the social scene and move towards more extreme drinking.

“In addition to harming themselves, binge drinkers produce second hand effects that produce problems for others on campus,” said Wechsler. These include being a victim of a physical assault or an unwanted sexual advance, having property vandalized, or having sleep or study interrupted. 

Although the 1999 report highlights the prevalence of binge drinking, the problem is age old. According to Wechsler, binge drinking is reported to have been a problem by Thomas Jefferson in Virginia and at Harvard University not long after its founding.

Raising Awareness

The recent Harvard study has helped place the issue of binge drinking in the media spotlight. It is Wechsler’s hope that the by maintaining the public’s attention, eventually there will be a change in the level of binge drinking as there has with the acceptance of smoking. As college campuses across the county grapple with this problem, he advises them to continue their educational programs for students, develop policies related to student behavior on campus, enforce those policies and work with the community and parents. “We need to focus attention not only on teaching students to be responsible drinkers, but also on getting outlets to be responsible servers,” said Wechsler, who believes it is a misconception parents have that drugs are more dangerous on campus than alcohol. “Beer and alcohol are the drugs of choice.” 

The full studies and additional information on the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study can be found at:
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