Binge drinking down among youth — except for college kids

Binge drinking has decreased over the last several decades for American youth, with the exception of college students

Young people in America arenâÄôt binge drinking like they used to âÄî at least those who arenâÄôt in college. Although there has been a reduction in binge drinking among young adults, this trend has not reached those enrolled in college, according to a study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine published in the July issue of Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry . The study analyzed data from 1979 to 2006, a time period that includes the federally mandated transition to the minimal legal drinking age of 21 years in all states. Researchers were interested in factors such as gender and ethnicity, as well as student status. According to the National Institute of Health, college-bound 12th graders drink less than those not heading to college, but their binge drinking rates eventually catch up to and pass those of their peers in the workforce. The study shows that over the last several decades, the decrease in binge drinking may be attributed to the higher minimum legal drinking age of 21 years. The increase in college drinking, however, leaves other sources to disagree. Boynton Health Services spokesman David Golden said heâÄôd like to ask the authors how they can attribute this information to the higher drinking age. âÄúHow do they isolate that variable?âÄù he said. âÄúJust because this happened at this point and things followed afterwards does not mean that you can really attribute it to that variable.âÄù In 2008, more than 100 college presidents and chancellors asked for the drinking age to be reconsidered , arguing that the law had consequently made binge drinking more excessive and difficult to monitor. Toben Nelson, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, said he sees reluctance by college administrators across the country to enforce some of the drinking laws on campus. âÄúCollege students are in this protected environment that allows heavy alcohol use to grow and continue,âÄù Nelson said. âÄúStudents are quite insulated from those laws and from enforcement of those laws. College administrators to some extent bear some responsibility for that.âÄù University Deputy Police Chief Chuck Miner said the high amount of binge drinking in college could have to do with the freedom that comes with the new experience. âÄúNew students are away for the first time,âÄù Miner said. âÄúThey donâÄôt have a curfew imposed on them so theyâÄôre going out and learning about life.âÄù Pierre Larsen, 20 , works at Burger King on Washington Avenue and will be starting college for the first time this fall. He said there are a few reasons he chooses not to binge drink, including a history of alcoholism in his family. âÄúI see a lot of drunk college students in here, it gets pretty packed,âÄù Larsen said. âÄúMy dad and step-dad were alcoholics and I donâÄôt want to get out of order like that.âÄù Miner said the use of the party patrol, a combination of University, Minneapolis and Hennepin County police, has been successful in reducing the amount of binge drinking and underage citations near campus. Miner said in the fourteen years heâÄôs been at the University heâÄôs seen a change in the drinking culture. âÄúAt the University of Minnesota, the number of underage citations has been steadily decreasing for the last decade,âÄù Miner said. âÄúMost of the time weâÄôre coming across freshmen and sophomores.âÄù Golden said that binge drinking data at the University has stayed pretty flat over recent years, but citation information does not tell us anything about the levels of heavy drinking. âÄúCitation information has to do with how many police you have out doing it,âÄù Golden said. âÄúTheyâÄôve lost funding for things like party patrol and programs like that.âÄù Last year, Boynton found that 18 to 20-year-olds have a binge drinking rate of more than 36 percent, and it increases to more than 46 percent for 21-25-year olds. The question still remains, why are college students doing this and not their counterparts who are not in school? Rae Green , 21, a fourth-year student at the University, said studies like this arenâÄôt capable of reaching enough people for accuracy. âÄúI doubt people who arenâÄôt in school and who participate in binge drinking would participate in this study,âÄù Green said. âÄúMaybe itâÄôs that college students have the opportunity to get away with drinking more.âÄù The Washington University study refers to binge drinking as consuming five drinks in one sitting, but Boynton therapist Mary Roske-Groth , who specializes in chemical health services, said it is more important to focus on the individual and the people they surround themselves with, rather than a standard number. âÄúWe tend to associate with people that are like us,âÄù Roske-Groth said. âÄúIf IâÄôm a heavy drinker, chances are IâÄôm going to associate myself with other heavy drinkers because then my heavy drinking wonâÄôt be called into question. ItâÄôs very different to have a 40-hour-per-week, 9 to 5 job where I need that job to support myself, versus, whatâÄôs the big deal if I donâÄôt make it to class?âÄù