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Campus drinking patterns hard to define, officials say

Terra Molengraff/Daily
Students make wax hands at UMix Late Night at the Michigan Union on Friday, April 1. Buy this photo

Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 3, 2011

Instead of grabbing a cup of jungle juice on Friday nights, many students choose free food at the Michigan Union, accompanied by a movie screening or singing karaoke.

The free weekend activities are part of UMix, a University-sponsored event that takes place every other week. While it was originally instituted as an alternative to drinking on Friday nights, University officials say it is unclear whether UMix has had a significant impact on the rate of underage drinking on campus since it began almost five years ago.

Though binge drinking on campus decreased from 2007 to 2009, there has been an increase in the number of students brought to the University hospital for drinking this year compared to last year. There has also been a rise in the number of violations reported to University offices related to alcohol education and conflict resolution. But due to several factors, University officials say it is hard to determine the actual patterns of students’ drinking in the last few years.

Eric Heilmeier, program adviser for University Unions Arts and Programs who oversees the UMix program, said UMix attracts between 500 and 900 students at each event. But even with a steady attendance rate, Heilmeier said it is difficult to gauge UMix’s effect on student drinking rates at the University.

“ The night (students) do choose to come to UMix, they more often than not don’t participate in drinking because they already have something going on,” Heilmeier said.

In addition to free movies and karaoke, other activities that have been offered at UMix include billiards, video games, roller-skating and making music videos using a green screen.

The 2009 Student Life Survey, conducted by the University’s Substance Abuse Research Center and Addiction Research Center, examined patterns of binge drinking and other alcohol and drug habits among University students. The study found that there has been a statistically significant drop in the percentage of binge drinkers — 52.1 to 46.3 — at the University between 2007 and 2009.

This continues a downward progression in the number of binge drinkers on campus from a peak of 53.2 percent in 2005 to 46.3 percent in 2009. However, Mary Jo Desprez, the alcohol and other drug policy and prevention administrator at University Health Services, said until the 2011 survey has been completed, it is impossible to tell if the recent decreases can be classified as a trend or as just a deviation in the data.

Despite the percentage drop in binge drinking from 2007 to 2009, more students have been taken to the hospital for their alcohol intake this year compared to last year. This academic year, 156 University students have been transported to the emergency room by authorities for excessive intoxication, Desprez said. Fifteen of the students were repeat offenders, she added. In comparison, Desprez said 113 students were taken to the hospital for excessive intoxication during the 2009-10 academic year.

According to the 2009-2010 executive summary of AlcoholEdu for College surveys — administered to uncover drinking tendencies of freshmen before the academic year and again several weeks into their first semester — drinking rates of University of Michigan freshmen are similar to national averages.

Desprez said when freshmen come to the University, there is a range of drinking preferences. These include non-drinkers who intend to stay non-drinkers, non-drinkers interested in trying alcohol in college, students who already drink a significant amount and students who have an alcohol addiction. The University attempts to provide resources and support for all students, Desprez said.

“(The University’s) responsibility is to make sure we have something for students wherever they fall along that continuum,” Desprez said.