New study shows heavy student drinking unchanged

A new University study shows that binge drinking levels at 18 major universities have been unchanged since 1993.

by Cody Vanasse

Students looking for a cheap way to spend their weekend are in luck; a 12 pack of beer can cost as little as $5. A cup of coffee, on the other hand, costs around $3 and a single movie ticket for the evening costs a student $10. According to Toben Nelson, University of Minnesota professor in epidemiology and community health, cheap and easily accessible alcohol is one of the many factors contributing to the heavy drinking problem plaguing American universities. Nelson published an article in SeptemberâÄôs issue of The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs entitled âÄúPersistence of Heavy Drinking and Ensuing Consequences at Heavy Drinking Colleges,âÄù which found that 18 heavy-drinking universities failed to improve high drinking levels since 1993. The studyâÄôs participating colleges remain confidential, but the relevance is certainly present at the University of Minnesota. According to the study, key characteristics of high-drinking universities include an emphasis on competitive athletics and locations in the northeast or north central United States. Nelson speculated geographic alcohol consumption may be due to cultural and historical regional differences. The 2008 Health and Health-Related Behavior survey performed by Boynton Health Service said 36.2 percent of 18- to 22-year-olds and 46.1 percent of 21- to 25-year-olds engage in binge drinking, defined as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages consecutively in the past two weeks. âÄúBinge drinking is so much of a problem that it doesnâÄôt even seem like a big deal anymore,âÄù first-year student Heidi Chung said. âÄúItâÄôs become so common, it seems normal.âÄù Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart and President Robert Bruininks plan to discuss the issue, Rinehart said, but specific community action plans still âÄúremain to be seen.âÄù âÄúWeâÄôve been doing almost everything thatâÄôs been proven to be effective. But alcohol problems on campus are really not a campus problem; theyâÄôre a community, state, and, for us, an Upper-Midwest problem.âÄù Nelson said he also thinks the answer to curbing binge drinking may lay with both the community and University. Increasing alcohol taxes, reducing density of alcohol outlets and working with local bars on drink specials that âÄúpromote high volume with low costâÄù are some of the steps Nelson believes could break the binge-drinking cycle. âÄúColleges and college communities have not done a wide-spread enactment of these kinds of interventions,âÄù Nelson said. âÄúIâÄôd love to see the U take some leadership on that.âÄù Many students drink to relieve stress or socialize, Boynton program director Dana Farley said. âÄúItâÄôs kind of a group thing,âÄù second-year psychology major Meghan Wallace said. âÄúYou have to be drinking and, at some point, you either are drunk or pretend to be drunk to fit in.âÄù The University has implemented several programs in an attempt to curb binge drinking, most of which provide education and alternative choices, such as Student Network for Abuse Prevention (SNAP) and Students Off Booze Enjoying Recovery (SOBER). âÄúWe donâÄôt send messages not to drink,âÄù fourth-year Spanish and Chicano studies major and undergraduate student coordinator for SNAP Maira Rosas-Lee said. âÄúWe try to provide students with tips on how to recognize alcohol poisoning and bust alcohol myths.âÄù SNAPâÄôs efforts include an interactive experience on the impact of drunkenness on the senses and a âÄúbe-WISE-erâÄù campaign on alcohol safety. The University also offers alcohol-free activities through Gophers After Dark and Comfort Zone in hopes of deterring students from drinking to socialize. But even with these attempts, for some college students the temptation to binge is too great. A little more than a month ago, Spanish and global studies third-year Isaac Fitzsimmons was a binge drinker. âÄúThereâÄôs always the temptation to drink,âÄù Fitzsimmons said. âÄúItâÄôs really hard sometimes. I canâÄôt go out on the weekend without being surrounded by alcohol.âÄù After realizing his binge-drinking problem, Fitzsimmons went to Boynton alcohol counseling. But he still wishes that drinking werenâÄôt such a social focal point in college life. âÄúSomeday, we are not going to be binge drinkers anymore,âÄù Fitzsimmons said. âÄúNo matter where you are after college, you need to know how to communicate without binge drinking.âÄù