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A health expert talks binge drinking just in time for Spring Jam


In the midst of Spring Jam, it is obvious the festivities aren’t just concerts and food. Toben Nelson, a social epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, focuses his study on health behavior during developmental transitions and prevention of alcohol-related harm. He sat down with the Minnesota Daily with some insight on college drinking.

What are the downfalls of binge drinking?

The reason people binge drink is to have fun, but there are a lot of symptoms that go with it, like throwing up and other aspects of a hangover. There are also a lot of social and health consequences such as using poor judgment, getting into fights and sexual assault.

Do you have any advice for college kids when it comes to drinking?

People don’t realize alcohol is one of the leading causes of death and … [a] leading cause of injury [according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80,000 people a year die in the United States from reasons related to drinking too much]. Don’t do anything to change the course of your life.

What types of people binge drink?

After numerous large surveys, we have found that those who usually binge drink tend to be men, but women are certainly catching up. Also, those who drink heavily in high school are more likely to binge drink when they are older.

Where is the most common place to drink?

Social centers on college campuses, greek letter organizations and those involved in athletics, such as the participants or fans.

Many people feel the drinking age should be lowered. Is this a good idea?

There is overwhelming evidence that says lowering the drinking age would lead to more problems. A lot of people don’t realize 21- to 23-year-olds tend to drink more heavily and experience more problems related to alcohol than 18- to 20-year-olds. Therefore, if we lower the drinking age, the easier access to alcohol would cause problems.

What are the most unsafe ways to drink?

The most unsafe ways to drink are in a large social setting where alcohol is flowing freely and very cheap or free, such as [from] a tap on a keg. Also, self-service rather than professional service with a large concentration of other people is unsafe.

What are colleges doing to address the issue?

The University of Minnesota is working to implement programs in Housing and Residential Life. … The school is also looking into changing the environment and way alcohol is available and sold to students. More screening in health centers by asking individuals about their use of alcohol … allows [health professionals] to identify those in need of intensive services.

Is the University as bad as other colleges when it comes to drinking problems?

The University of Minnesota, compared to [the University of Wisconsin] Madison, has far fewer outlets, likely contributing to less drinking rates. Compared to other colleges, we’re about in the middle.

At some schools, two out of three students said they were a binge drinker, and other schools said only two out of every five students binge drink; this is the average, which is where the University is. This is because this is more of a commuter campus, and there is less alcohol in this environment than other campuses, especially other Big Ten schools.

You mentioned the greek system being a big promoter of drinking. What is your opinion on greek parties?

We’re trying to help support efforts of greek organizations in promoting the Arkeo self-policing program. It’s a step in the right direction for organizations that have had problems with alcohol. There is active involvement between cops and greek organizations. The greek organizations understand that they have an opportunity to police themselves with policies, but consequences are there. Those of legal age can drink alcohol, but the houses need to have guest lists and can’t serve alcohol to anyone who walks in the door, which is how they often operate.

What should be done to prevent binge drinking?

It is important to have good screening and intervention programs that use brief intervention strategies [in campus health centers like Boynton Health Service].

We’ve found putting heavier taxes on alcohol is the most effective way to prevent unsafe drinking. Responsible beverage training and reducing the density of alcohol outlets on campus is also effective.

Has binge drinking changed over the years?

Despite a lot of attention, drinking hasn’t changed that much over the past 15 to 20 years. Numbers have been stable throughout the years as a result of the environment not changing too much. In the late 1970s, when the drinking age went down then came back up, we saw a dramatic drop in high school [drinking rates] but not in college students.

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