Staff Editorial: Drinking under the table

Underage drinkers down about 20 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States, according to a recent report in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The prevalence of alcohol at colleges is increasing and drawing new focus and research.

Representatives from the Center for Alcohol and Drug Education recently told Greek leaders there has already been upward of 73 alcohol-related hospitalizations this year at GW, as opposed to 44 for all of last year. Things could only get worse considering, as officials warned, most hospitalizations occur in warm weather.

College “binge drinking” is receiving an increasing amount of attention. Colleges are hiring professionals and creating whole departments to deal with the problem and publications such as The New York Times have noted things may be getting out of control.

Binge drinking, as defined by the College Alcohol Study, means five or more drinks in one sitting for a man, or four or more for a woman, on at least one occasion in a two-week period. Surveys have consistently shown that two out of five college students fit this profile. The same surveys indicate the average age young people start drinking has dropped to 14. There is something inherently wrong with the culture of alcohol in the United States that leads students to bypass casual drinking and delve directly into heavy drinking.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, campuses should address binge drinking by polling students, then publicizing data about student drinking habits (typically posters emphasizing that the majority of students aren’t drinking heavily, such as the ones commonly seen in Thurston or HOVA that show most students have 0-4 drinks). Universities could then poll students again to measure changes in their perceptions and behavior. The polls are not showing dramatic effects of the polls on student drinking.

Universities are stuck with a social phenomenon of underage binge drinking. They are losing the fight to curtail student drinking, but at least schools like GW are making it socially acceptable to call for help when things get out of control, as shown by the increased hospitalizations. This allows students to get help before a little partying turns fatal.

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