Student drinking spawns concern

About 75 percent of University students drank at least once in a 30-day time frame.

by Andy Mannix

One month after the death of a student at Minnesota State University in Mankato that is believed to be a result of alcohol abuse, community concern prompted Minnesota State University President Richard Davenport to write a guest editorial for the Mankato Free Press outlining the steps the school is taking to deter high-risk student drinking.

In the University community, concern about alcohol abuse prevention is also apparent.

Natalie Lupo, a family social science senior who is also enrolled in the University’s addiction studies certificate program and president of the student group Students Off Booze Enjoying Recovery, said drinking at the University is a problem.

“I think it would be really just naïve to think that it isn’t a problem on our campus,” she said.

According to recent data released by Boynton Health Service, about 42 percent of University students age 18-24 participated in “high-risk” drinking within a two-week period. The survey defines high-risk drinking as the consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting.

The survey also indicated that in a 30-day period, about 75 percent of University students drank alcohol one or more times – which is 2 percent less than MSU students, according to a 2007 survey conducted by the American College Health Association.

Lupo said MSU and the University are similar schools, and the death of an MSU student should be an eye-opener for the University community as well.

“Obviously the problem with drinking with the U of M and Mankato, it’s always been there,” she said. “It’s just really unfortunate that it takes something like that, you know, people dying when they’re so young, for people to notice that something needs to be done. So I would hope that we would be proactive and avoid being reactive like unfortunately Mankato had to do.”

David Golden, director of public health and communication at Boynton, said the University is not making any changes as a direct result of the death of the MSU student, but a strong effort is already being made to promote alcohol awareness.

“We know that when we get this many people engaged in high-risk drinking that that possibility always exists, and we do have students that end up in the emergency room throughout the course of the year because of high blood-alcohol levels,” Golden said.

One thing the University focuses on is spreading the message that when students are unresponsive as a result of alcohol abuse, calling an ambulance is the correct course of action, as opposed to simply letting them sleep it off, Golden said.

“Health advocates have been responsible, I’m certain, for saving lives by just identifying this person as someone who, you know, we need to call 911 on,” he said.

Dana Farley, associate program director for public health and communications at Boynton, said some of the ways the University promotes alcohol awareness include posters and signs in on-campus housing, providing non-alcohol-related alternatives such as Gophers After Dark and programs like S.O.B.E.R., which is designed to help students recover from alcohol addiction.

Farley said in the past year the University has also been working with local bars to try to promote alcohol safety. Specifically, Farley said they are gearing efforts toward mandating bar server training and raising the severity of consequences for people caught using fake IDs.

“One bar collects a five gallon bucket of fake ID’s each week, and there’s no consequence,” he said. “Some of the discussion with the police and the city representatives is looking at heavier consequences.”

Golden said although he would like to see the rate of high-risk drinking at the University drop, the numbers aren’t very high compared to other colleges on a national level.

Golden attributes overall high drinking rates in U.S. colleges to the widely accepted idea that college drinking is normal.

“The issue is much greater than what we can do alone on our campus,” he said.

Golden suggested raising alcohol prices as a possible solution to lowering the rates of alcohol abuse.

“People are very sensitive to price, so if you drive up the price of alcohol, that’s one thing that’s going to make it less accessible,” Golden said. “If you compare alcohol prices now, relatively, they really haven’t gone up much in the past 20 years. I mean it’s very affordable as far as a recreational drug.”