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Weschler Survey Finds Level of Binge Drinking Unchanged

By Michael M. Torrice

Levels of binge drinking by college students have remained constant in recent years according to a report released by Henry Wechsler which follows his landmark 1993 study of binge drinking on college campuses.

Wechsler, the director of College Alcohol Studies at the Harvard School of Public Health, and his colleagues found that two out of five college students are binge drinkers. The level of binge drinking at MIT is much lower, according to surveys taken by the medical department

"I'm surprised, but not surprised," said Dr. William Kettyle, associate director of the medical department. "The problem has always been there, but I am surprised not to see a change in the face of education and the national attention."

But Tracy Desovich, health educator for students, warns that the intense media coverage on the Wechsler report and other drinking related stories may have a negative effect on binge drinking rates. "It is important to know what the media attention does to students it is a subtle peer pressure," Desovich said.

The Wechsler report also examined the drinking styles of students on college campuses. His study found that the percentage of students reporting that they drink to get drunk increased from 39 percent in 1993 to 52 percent. "It points to a need for all [health educators] to understand the motivations for drinking," Desovich said.

MIT below the national average

Since 1990, MIT's rate of binge drinking has been roughly half the national average at 23 percent. In addition, one third of MIT students have abstained from drinking in the past year, while Wechsler reported that 19 percent of students in his survey had abstained from drinking. "[These statistics] give us some hope that there is a large community able to function without alcohol," said Kettyle.

In the 1995 Core Alcohol and Other Drug Survey done by MITMedical, 53 percent of students felt that drinking on campus interferes with campus life. That statistic is lower than the three out of four students who reported felt this way in the nationwide Wechsler report.

Kettyle feels that the problem with college drinking may be inherent in the campus environment. He points out that the binge drinking rates for students who do not go away to school are much lower than those living on campus.

"There is a wonderful freedom in this environment to be who you are, but this freedom can also have a down side dangerous behaviors may be tolerated to the point of disaster," said Kettyle.

Report calls for action

Wechsler ends his report with some criticism towards Greek culture on the nation's campuses. "If colleges are to have an impact on their alcohol problems, they must change this drinking culture [of fraternities and sororities] drastically," said the Wechsler report.

Desovich called for non-drinkers to help out in the effort to lower binge drinking rates. "A non-drinker has to act as a community member and be concerned."

The medical department points to the MedLink and Upfront programs as a way to get information out to the student body, but they admit that these programs will not solve the problem alone. "The Med Center offers two things: education and care," said Kettyle. "In between, there is a culture and a community that we may influence but can't control or modify in a major way."