In the coming weeks, millions of collegians will brush up on their imbibing techniques during that holiest of all vacations, Spring Break. And just as sunburns are a sure bet, so too is the tendency for binge drinking synonymous with the time off from school.
A binge drinker by definition is a male who consumes five drinks in a row or a female who consumes four. “I’ve probably drunk a good amount of alcohol four or five nights in the past two weeks,” recounted Chris Fisci, a student at Yuba College. “I’d say probably 89 percent of students drink [at Yuba College]. It’s not really a big deal in my opinion.”
“I’d say at least 70 percent of students drink heavily on campus,” estimated fellow student Josh Garner. “[Alcohol] probably will hurt [ drinkers] in the future, but it all depends on how long they keep drinking.”
The reality is, roughly 44 percent of college students can be categorized as binge drinkers. Which means two in five students are guilty of consuming alcohol regularly. While most students disregard the severity of binge drinking, often overestimating the amount of drinking among their peers as well as their own capacities to survive alcohol in large amounts, parents and faculty are more concerned.
According to Robert Abele, a Yuba College professor, “I think you’re always running the risk when there’s binge drinking of students hurting themselves or killing themselves, and along down the road, damaging enough brain cells to where they can’t function as well as they would if they hadn’t been binge drinkers.”
Although on average only 20 percent binge drinkers actually binge more than twice a month, they are responsible for 68 percent of all the alcohol consumption that takes place on college campuses, and some say, can be accredited with smearing the reputation of college students as a whole.
“It’s just a guess, but probably over fifty percent of Yuba College students binge drink.” said Abele, “I’ve been to college and when you get to college you get that freedom and you just go wild.”
According to a Harvard School of Public Health College alcohol study, 91 percent of female students and 78 percent of the males who were binge drinkers considered themselves to be moderate or light drinkers.
“I only drink on weekends,” said Kimberly Luckie, also attending Yuba College. “As long as [students] are responsible, I don’t see a problem.”
The percentage of imbibing collegians differs a bit between the sexes, with males having a greater tendency to binge. Over all, students who live in a fraternity or sorority are statistically the heaviest drinkers. A whopping 86 percent of fraternity residents and 80 percent of sorority residents admitted to episodes of over-the-top intoxication in recent months. In fact, to live in a fraternity or sorority means increasing one’s chances of drinking 20 percent.
But don’t blame binge drinkers for all the college’s woes. As long as we’re on the subject of imbibing, over half of college students have done so in the past year according to a 2006 survey conducted by parentingteens.com. To provide a sense of scope on the issue, that’s about 12 million undergraduates drinking 4,000,000,000 cans of beer each year.
Studies preformed by the government’s Department of Health and Human Services in 2005 show schools plagued with a high percentage of drinkers predominately suffer from the drunken antics of a smaller percentage of bingers. Thirteen percent of non – drinking college students reported being assaulted by binge drinkers; 26 percent of female students received unwanted sexual advances; and 68 percent of students claimed they were interrupted by binge drinkers while studying.
The toll of all this alcohol abuse is grim. The results of an annual study preformed by the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows an average of 1,400 college students are killed due to alcohol related injuries every year. The study also concluded that 70,000 college students are the victims of alcohol related sexual assault or date rape yearly.
When asked to comment upon a possible strategy schools might implement to combat binge drinking, Abele replied, “I think by raising awareness about binge drinking, [colleges] end up having less students who do it. That would be the first step to take.”
Despite the extent of drinking on campus, imbibing statistics point to a trend that may be comforting to some empty-nest parents back home. American college students are actually becoming an increasingly sober bunch every year. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism records, alcohol consumption has decreased significantly over the past two decades from 75 percent of all college students drinking in 1979, to a little over 50 percent at the present.
What has gone up is the hysteria surrounding college drinking in recent years. The concern is fueled by colleges having to cough up thousands of dollars every year for programs designed to combat alcohol abuse on campus, in order to avoid situations like the one M.I.T. faced in 2002, when it payed the parents of a freshman who drank himself to death in a fraternity initiation 6 million dollars in an out of court settlement.
Some say colleges are attacking the issue of binge drinking by nipping at the bud, rather than getting to the root of the problem. A survey preformed at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York showed half of bingers started abusing alcohol before they arrived at college.
“Colleges are inheriting behaviors learned in high school,” said social psychologist Henry Wechsler, head of Harvard’s study on drinking among young people. Another professor in agreement with Wechsler is Dr. Hoover Adger, professor and pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “If you look at two subsets, young people with good parental monitoring and those without,” Adger said, “the difference in alcohol use is staggering. Among kids whose parents stay on top of their behavior, only about 10 percent drink at all, never mind drinking excessively.”