Alcohol use on rise at University

Craig Gustafson

Police records and national surveys reveal that alcohol use and abuse at the University has increased, though officials deny that a major problem exists.
University Police records show an 18 percent surge in student alcohol-related arrests between 1997 and 1998. Surveys also reveal that binge drinking has become more prevalent on campuses nationwide.
Students, however, aren’t the only ones drinking on campus. More than 400 nonstudents were arrested in 1998, twice the number of students.
University Police Lt. Steve Johnson said he doesn’t believe the increase is significant.
“The University is not a party school,” Johnson said. “We’re nowhere near some of the famous drinking campuses.”
Some, however, feel the situation is more serious.
“Binge drinking is a persistent problem (on college campuses) that isn’t going away,” said Carol Falkowski, a senior research analyst at Hazelden Foundation. Falkowski has conducted research on substance abuse in Minnesota since 1986.
“It remains the number one problem,” she said.
A 1996 study by Boynton Health Service revealed that 39 percent of University students admitted to binge drinking sometime during the two weeks prior to the survey. The study defined binge drinking as five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting.
In 1995, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism released a comprehensive study on college drinking.
According to the study, 88 percent of college students nationwide, including those under the legal drinking age, have used alcohol. It also found that 52 percent of college men and 31 percent of college women binge drank.
Data about the University show a similar trend.
The most recent Boynton survey showed that 32 percent of students consumed alcohol six or more times per month.
Johnson said that extensive substance abuse at last year’s Spring Jam concert prompted the city of Minneapolis to be more concerned about college drinking.
The city reacted by ordering more saturation patrols — extra officers assigned to cover situations likely to get out of hand.
The University’s Homecoming is just such an event.
On the night of the Homecoming game, 14 additional squads will aid University Police in Operation NightCAP, a crackdown on drunken driving.
In a Core Alcohol and Drug Survey of 56,000 college students nationwide, students who reported D and F grade-point averages consumed an average of nine alcoholic drinks per week, while those who earned mostly A’s consumed only three drinks per week.
Amelious Whyte, coordinator of chemical health programs for Boynton, said students aren’t learning to drink in college.
“Studies have shown more and more high-school kids are drinking,” he said. “The U is doing its part; the community needs to do theirs.”
Whyte said that parents have complained to University Police because their children are being arrested for drinking.
Wisconsin minor-consumption tickets are roughly $200, while Minnesota charges $100 for the same offense. Whyte said Wisconsin law-enforcement agencies make it known that underage drinking is unacceptable.
University officials said that although some students cannot control their alcoholic consumption, many have proven they can.
More than 65 percent of students drink three or fewer drinks per week.

Craig Gustafson covers the Medical School and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3233.