A recent nationwide study has confirmed what surveys have already shown at the University – that rates of alcohol use, and its associated effects, are increasing. While administrators plan a number of new outreach and educational efforts in an effort to combat alcohol abuse, the University is limited by its participation in a nationwide alcohol abuse prevention marketing study.

Paul Wong
LSA sophomore Chris Perry tries on a pair of beer goggles, which simulate a persons vision after having anywhere between three to eight drinks in an hour, as onlookers fill out surveys. (DAVID ROCHKIND/Daily)

“Its been within the last couple years we’ve had a lot more alcohol-related incidents,” said Tom Baez, a clinical psychologist for Counseling and Psychological Services, who participated in National Alcohol Screening Day, an educational program organized by University Health Service, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Department of Public Safety.

The program, held yesterday in the Michigan Union and today at Pierpont Commons from noon to 2 p.m. includes a student alcohol questionnaire, educational information about alcohol and an exercise simulating intoxication with a pair of beer goggles.

“The philosophy of campus has been one of education and intervention,” Baez said, adding that in addition to individual counseling at CAPS and resources at University Health Service, there are a number of Alcoholics Anonymous groups on campus.

A new nationwide study released this week concludes that alcohol use and abuse continues to be a growing problem on campuses nationwide, concluding that 1,400 college students die each year in alcohol-related incidents.

The study also found that one in five students surveyed had engaged in binge drinking in the previous two weeks and estimates that binge drinking contributes to 500,000 injuries and 70,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year. Additionally, the study found that 400,000 students between 18 and 24 reported having unprotected sex as a result of drinking.

“I think that (education) is a wonderful resource to have out for people who decide to drink … but it’s not going to deter them from drinking,” LSA sophomore Jessica Smith said.

“Students who want to drink will make that decision based on factors such as their social group,” Smith said. “It’s not as though people feel the need to make others drink.”

Drinking and binge drinking rates among University students increased between 1999 and 2001, according to a study commissioned by University administrators. According to the Student Life Survey released in March, 86 percent of students reported that alcohol use represented a problem on campus.

“I knew there’d be a lot of drinking,” said LSA freshman Rohini Singh, “It’s all over the place … we’re desensitized to it.”

The survey showed increases in the amount of binge drinking, especially among women.

“We definitely see students whose academic performances are impacted by alcohol use,” said Susan Szpunar, a pre-health LSA academic advisor. “There are resources (about alcohol) … but students frequently don’t know what’s available.”

Some students agreed that while educational programs are useful, they aren’t well known.

“I wouldn’t really be sure where to go,” Singh said.

“I feel like facts are really useful,” she said. “If a girl finds out there’s 240 calories in a beer, they’d think twice about drinking it.”

The University is currently engaged in a number of ongoing outreach and education efforts regarding alcohol, but their actions are limited by the University’s participation in a nationwide study to analyze the effects of certain types of alcohol marketing techniques.

Called the Social Norms Marketing Research Project, the five-year study pairs 16 schools which institute aggressive marketing campaigns focusing on actual alcohol use on campus with 16 control schools who are prohibited from using the marketing until the final year.

In 2004, the last year of the study, the University will be allowed to start a social norms marketing campaign known as “Just the Facts.” Other schools currently participating in the project, but who are not control schools and have the “Just the Facts” campaign include Purdue, Syracuse, Oregon State, Michigan State and Indiana State universities, as well as the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and the University of Texas at Arlington.

“We’re really just comparing the schools that have the campaign to those that don’t,” Laura Gomberg, the project director, said. The University of Michigan combines data collection required by the study with other efforts to curb alcohol abuse.

“We’re not allowed to do any social norm marketing in the five-year period,” said Marsha Benz, the health education coordinator for alcohol and other drugs at University Health Service.

Benz oversees the study at the University. “It’s a match control study – we are the control in the study,” she added.

The University is paired with a similar school that has a marketing campaign. The study released Tuesday categorizes social norms marketing as a technique that looks ‘promising.’

The study “doesn’t affect my life one way or another,” Smith said. She noted students are influenced by social peer pressures more than marketing.

Szpunar said that although sometimes it is possible to isolate variables in studies, other times it is not appropriate. “There can be a problem that you would have to expect outreach … you can design a study and still have some outreach.”

Despite the temporary limitation, Benz said UHS and other University departments are always working on new outreach and education efforts. The study released this week says that while the most common, educational efforts alone are not effective in cutting consumption of alcohol.

“The thing we can’t do is say ‘x percent of students don’t drink,'” said Patricia Flax, the alcohol and other drugs campus initiatives coordinator for UHS, who added that “social marketing programs .. are very effective.”

In order to address the increase in binge drinking on campus, Flax said the University plans special programs to target a few residence halls where problem drinking is most prevalent.

“I’ll be hiring three student community organizers to reach out to different communities,” said Flax, who added initiatives would include funding for student groups who held programming late at night.

“We try to appeal to different people in different ways. We’re always looking for new ways to try to reach out to new people,” Benz said.

UHS is working with a class to begin several informational programs and campaigns next fall, including one that focuses on the financial costs associated with drinking, and the distribution of educational materials to all residence hall residents.

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