Study shows increase in frequent binge drinking

WASHINGTON – Frequent binge drinking increased on college campuses in 1999, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study released Tuesday.

But as the number of frequent binge drinkers rose, so did the number of students who abstain from drinking alcohol. According to the study, one in five college students reported they refrained from drinking in 1999, an increase from 15 percent in 1993 and 19 percent last year.

Excess is not necessarily part of college life, said Ed McGlothlin, a Florida State University student who abstains from drinking alcohol.

McGlothlin criticized local bars that target young people by advertising cheap beer specials.

For a reason I can’t understand, Tuesday and Thursday nights have become party nights, he said.

Henry Wechsler, the director of the College Alcohol Studies Program at Harvard, said local bars should not be the sole source of blame.

Wechsler and his colleagues defined binge drinkers as men who had five or more and women who had four or more drinks in a row at least once in the two weeks before taking the survey. Frequent binge drinkers are students who had consumed these amounts at least three times in the two weeks before answering the survey questions.

Frequent binge drinkers are seven times more likely to miss class, five times more likely to forget where they have been and 10 times more likely to damage property, Wechsler said.

Joel Wiegert, a former binge drinker from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, said he wanted to tell the story of a young man who got wrapped up in the experimental alcohol culture that we see on campus.

Wiegert reformed his ways after analyzing the pros and cons of excessive drinking, he said.

I’ve yet to come up with one benefit to high-risk drinking, Wiegert said. He remembers his freshman year when his experimentation with alcohol began.

I was pushing the limits – it was kind of a scary time, he said.

But Wiegert said the temptation to drink is prevalent, and students have misconceptions about what things are necessary for socializing.

A party without beer doesn’t make much sense in that culture, Wiegert said.

Now Wiegert stresses moderation, he said.

I think drinking is fun, and I like to have a beer with friends after class, he said. But five or six is not for me.

Wiegert is a member of the Golden Key National Honor Society, Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership and a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

The study found that binge drinking among students who live in a fraternity or sorority house has remained about the same since the first study conducted in 1993, but the number is still high. About 79 percent of students living in Greek-letter houses reported that they binge drink.

Colleges and universities are taking action to minimize high-risk drinking on campus, the study found. Since the second Harvard study in 1997, many schools increased initiatives by offering alcohol-free housing, special alcohol-free nighttime events and some sort of alcohol prevention education.

About 51 percent of the respondents in 1999 said administrators prohibited advertisements on campus for local bars and clubs.

Wechsler said he was disappointed because administrators have taken action against the alcohol culture and little has changed. He said educators must warn students and offer anti-alcohol programs at an earlier age, at least in high school.

Alcohol is the drug of choice for most young people and needs to be considered that, Wechsler said.

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Iowa at Iowa City, said the responsibility of minimizing high-risk drinking lies with everyone.

We all suffer the harmful effects of excessive drinking, she said.

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