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More Students Binge Drinking, Study Says

Study Shows Abstinence on Rise as Well

By Efren Gutierrez
STAFF REPORTER

At the same more students in college are choosing to abstain from alcohol, an increasing percentage of their classmates are engaging in frequent binge drinking, according to a recent report of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study. Henry Wechsler, the report’s main author, also included wide-ranging recommendations to college administrators seeking to reduce binge drinking.

The report, the third in a series of reports by the School of Public Health, shows that 22.7 percent of college students in 1999 frequently binge drink, in contrast to 19.8 percent of college students in 1993. The number of abstainers in the population rose, from 15.4 percent in 1993 to 19.2 percent in 1999. The overall binge drinking rate in 1999 in roughly the same as the rate in 1993.

The report concluded that the most likely binge drinkers are white fraternity members who were binge drinkers in high school. Factors associated with those who do not binge drink include being African American or Asian, 24 years or older, or married. Those who did not engage in binge drinking in high school were also unlikely to binge drink in college.

Wechsler provides many explanations about why the binge drinking rate has remained persistently high. One is that enough time hasn’t passed between the initial and current study to notice any effects made by college administrator’s policies. However, the report says that the increase in the number of people choosing to abstain shows that some policies may be working.

The report also points out a great polarization in the drinking behaviors at college. The survey shows that two of three fraternity and sorority students are binge drinkers, while one in three students living on campus live in alcohol-free dormitories. It also shows that 12.6 percent of respondents who did not live in alcohol-free housing wished to be placed in alcohol-free housing.

Report’s recommendations

One of the Wechsler’s recommendations is that colleges increase educational demands in terms of Friday classes and exams to reduce the amount the length of the weekend, thereby providing “full-time education for full-time tuition.”

The report also suggests that colleges implement a “three strikes and you’re out” policy and consider notifying parents of the heaviest student binge drinkers.

In addition, it calls for colleges to assure that students have available to them alcohol-free social and recreational activities “so that they have more to do than just ‘party.’”

Students react to report

MIT students have reacted in different ways to the report. Theta Delta Chi brother Darien B. Crane ’03 said, “Yes there is binge drinking, but that’s meaningless because different people experience the effects of alcohol in different ways.”

Gina M. Pelleriti ’03, a sister of Alpha Chi Omega, said, “There is a lot of binge drinking that occurs, both in the dorms and in the FSILG’s, but we just can’t just focus on one more than the other. It’s just that in dorms it’s easier to hide drinking because they’re not the typical places to have public parties.”

MIT offers many resources for those who have a binge drinking problem, said Mark A. Goldstein, Chief of Pediatric and Student Health. The most preferred path is to go through a primary-care physician and through them be referred to a psychiatrist in mental health services. Those with a binge drinking problem also have the option of seeing a social worker or psychiatrist who deals specifically with the treatment of substance abuse.

This is the third report of the College Alcohol Study begun in 1993. Wechsler shared authorship of the report with Jae Eun Lee, Meichun Kuo, and Hang Lee. The report surveys 119 four-year colleges; MIT did not participate in the survey. The report’s definition of binge drinking is the consumption of five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more for women, at least once in a two week period.