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Survey Shows MIT Drinking Below National Average

By Naveen Sunkavally

The Medical Department recently released the results of a 1995 survey on the usage patterns, perceptions, and consequences of alcohol and other drug use among MIT undergraduates.

The survey was developed by the Department of Education and was given to students on several hundred college campuses across the country. At MIT, it had a 30 percent response rate out of a sample of 1,500 students.

The survey reported that, on average, "MIT students' self-reported use and personal consequences from use of alcohol and other drugs were lower than that of students from [other] four-year institutions."

According to the survey, 30 percent of MITstudents abstained from alcohol during the year prior to the survey, 17 percent above the national average. Twenty-three percent of MIT students reported that they had participated in binge drinking in the previous month. The national average was 44 percent.

Binge drinking was defined as drinking five or more drinks in a row for men, or four for women.

The typical MITstudent in 1995 consumed 2.4 drinks per week, as opposed to 4.4 nationally.

MIT students also reported "far fewer negative consequences from drinking and/or drug use than other four-year schools." Fifteen percent of MIT students committed some form of public misconduct, and 13 percent experienced some kind of serious personal problem, ranging from depression to sexual assault.

In addition, figures on the usage of drugs, including marijuana, LSD, and opiates, were uniformly lower than national levels in 1995.

Students hold misconceptions

One significant result from the survey was the disparity between the perceptions of substance abuse and the actual numbers, said Health Educator Tracy A. Desovich. The survey reported that 73 percent believe that the average student consumes at least one drink a week, when only 28 percent reported actually do so.

Seventy-six percent of respondants believed the social atmosphere on campus promotes alcohol use.

Fifty-three percent of students in the survey reported that other students' drinking interfered with their life in ways such as making them feel unsafe or "messing up" their living space.

Over a third of the students who responded, 35 percent, indicated they would prefer not to have alcohol available at parties they attend.

Also according to the survey, almost all students, 94 percent, perceived drinking as a central part of the social life at fraternities. "If we keep holding these perceptions," Desovich said, "we are doing a great disservice" to the community and the process of alcohol education.

The survey results also stated that "seventy-five percent of students who live off campus are current drinkers, as compared to only 50 percent who live on campus."

Of the current drinkers in the survey, 57 percent of the population, half were underage. "Certainly at the present time underage drinking laws are being broken all the time. My own feeling is that it would make sense to lower the age," said Director of the MIT Medical Department Arnold H. Weinberg.

Weinberg also pointed to Europe, where students experience alcohol at a young age in a family setting and don't perceive drinking as a "macho thing."

Binge drinking results significant

Despite the lower incidence of substance abuse among MIT students, Weinberg pointed to the "issue of binge drinking and its ripple effects" as one of the most significant results of the survey.

The survey results roughly mean "that there are over 1,000 students who binge drink on campus," Weinberg said. This is an issue on many college campuses "that causes many social and physical problems," he said. "The MITMedical Department wants to be a part of education."

"Even though we have such a large number of students who don't drink here at all, everyone gets affected," Desovich said.

Alcohol education sorely needed

Alcohol education is one of the most important things students should receive, Weinberg said. Weinberg said that most people are not aware of facts such as the increased danger of alcohol consumption on an empty stomach, in conjunction with marijuana and other drugs, or after having carbonated drinks.

The survey indicated that many students at MIT are not well-educated about drugs and alcohol. Seventy-one percent said they didn't know if the campus had an alcohol and drug prevention program.

Weinberg and Desovich stressed the role of the Medical Department in times of crisis. "The Medical Department is open 24 hours a day," Desovich said.

Desovich said that many people carry the misconception that if they come to the Medical Department for help and are underage, they will be turned in, when, in fact, everything is kept strictly confidential.