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Drinking Takes Toll on Campuses

Health: Deaths, injuries and sex attacks are cited in study. A report recommends 'changing the culture' at colleges.

April 10, 2002|JOHANNA NEUMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Drinking by U.S. college students contributes to 1,400 deaths, half a million injuries and 70,000 sexual assaults a year, according to a three-year review of existing studies released Tuesday by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The study also found that 2.1 million students--one-fourth of college students ages 18 to 24--drove under the influence of alcohol during the last year.

"The harm that college students do to themselves and others as a result of excessive drinking exceeds what many would have expected," said Ralph W. Hingson, professor of social behavioral sciences at Boston University's School of Public Health and the study's lead author.

In addition to the study, published in the March issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, the institute's Task Force on College Drinking issued a companion report that offers suggestions on how to curb the problem of college-age drinking. The 59-page report recommends "changing the culture of drinking at U.S. colleges."

Mark Goldman, co-chairman of the task force that produced the report, says the study and the report together document how severe the problem is.

"Our society has always dealt with this with a wink and a nod, as a rite of passage," said Goldman, a psychology research professor at the University of South Florida. "But the statistics that Ralph Hingson has put together are stunning to all of us, even the most seasoned researchers."

The task force, in an unusual twist, brought together scientific researchers who had been studying the problem and university presidents who had been dealing with the results. The 36-member group, which also included students, took a pragmatic tack, suggesting solutions tailored to specific schools and involving the larger community around the school.

"This is one of those cases of squeezing the balloon," said Goldman. "A dry campus just drives the problem off campus. The community has to be on the same page."

Issued two days before National Alcohol Screening Day at 550 colleges and universities, the study found that:

* Most students drink moderately or abstain--in fact, the proportion of nondrinkers has increased in recent years to 19%--but about 40% of students engage in "binge drinking," defined as five or more drinks in a row for men or four or more in a row for women.

* The binge drinkers account for nearly 70% of all alcohol consumed by college students, and drinking rates are highest among incoming freshmen, males, athletes and members of fraternities and sororities.

* Students at two-year colleges, religious schools, commuter schools or predominantly or historically black colleges and universities drink the least.

But the report concludes that "the fallout from excessive consumption does not discriminate. It threatens the health and safety of all students."

The task force was formed several years ago, after Scott Krueger, an 18-year-old freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, died after a weekend bout of drinking at a fraternity. Ever since, national fraternal organizations say they have required alcohol education on campuses.

"We're trying to tackle the problem," said Dan Bureau, assistant dean of students and coordinator of Greek affairs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Bureau says most fraternities now require alcohol education programs, some of which use an interactive CD-ROM that lets students test their drinking limits as a video game, instead of in a car or on the streets.

"We're doing a lot around education, but it's a hard thing to overcome," he said.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is part of the National Institutes of Health.

*

The study and the report are available on the Internet at http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov.

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