Binge drinking continues to rise on 'U' campus

BY JACQUELINE E. HOWARD
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 29, 2005

Campus surveys show that while the number of students who choose to drink may fluctuate, binge drinking among those who do consume alcohol is increasing.

Beth Dykstra
University students set up a keg of beer. (Photo illustration by David Tuman/Daily)

“The intensity of the drinking habits of those who do drink is increasing,” said Patrice Flax, coordinator of the University’s Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Program

On a national level, research shows a similar trend. Karen Murray, a consultant for Bacchus and Gamma Peer Education Network, studies alcohol use among young adults at colleges and universities in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana. Her research shows that, although the rate of college students who drink has remained steady for years, binge drinking is increasingly becoming a problem.

“Since 1997, the number of students who drink alcohol has not drastically changed. What is different is the high-risk behaviors,” she said.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism gathered research that shows excessive alcohol use by college-aged individuals is a significant source of harm. NIAA research indicates that 1,400 college students die each year as a result of unintentional injuries related to alcohol.

“Alcohol misuse is the number one public health problem for institutions of higher education across the U.S.,” Murray said.

The results from the most recently released campus-wide Student Life Survey, conducted in March 2003, show that the rate of binge drinking among undergraduate students who choose to drink was 50 percent, an increase from 42 percent in 1999.

In addition, there are several high-risk sub-groups — groups of students with the highest percentage of alcohol abuse. For instance, according to the survey, 76 percent of students living in fraternities and sororities report engaging in binge drinking, compared with 58 percent of students living in apartments, 38 percent of students living in residence halls and 34 percent of students living outside of Ann Arbor.

Flax said alcohol-related deaths on college campuses result primarily from binge drinking, which University researchers define as having five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in one episode.

Many incoming students quickly fall into the habit of binge drinking, as they participate in drinking games and take shots with students who have been involved in this risky behavior for years, Murray said. She said binge drinking is especially dangerous for freshmen because their bodies are unaccustomed to such a heavy intake of alcohol.

“Students don’t understand that alcohol is a drug,” Flax said. “Intoxication makes people extremely vulnerable.”

Many students agree that alcohol abuse is an issue that needs to be addressed at the University.

“Binge drinking and drinking in general is a problem on campus, as I’m sure you’re aware,” LSA sophomore Lisa Glass said.

Marsha Benz, Alcohol and Other Drug Educator at the University Health Service, helped launch a social norms campaign last semester to combat the binge-drinking problem at the University. Their findings from a survey of randomly selected University students, conducted in winter 2003, showed that 61 percent of students have 0-4 drinks when they party.

The social norm campaigns are a new strategy introduced by the Educational Development Center. Their researchers have argued that many students overestimate how much their peers drink.

The campaigns are organized in hopes of reducing alcohol consumption by showing the popularity of binge drinking as a misconception.

“Students tend to find no fault in binge drinking because they accept this behavior as normal or even expected in a particular social context,” Murray said.

The Social Norms Marketing Research Project is a national research study to evaluate the effectiveness of social norms marketing to reduce high-risk drinking among college students.

This project is located within the Health and Human Development division of EDC. The University and 31 other institutions of higher education are involved in this experiment, and the findings will advance alcohol prevention programming.