Any student passing through four years of college inevitably will be faced with social settings centered around alcohol. For many, drinking beer and downing shots can become as much a part of their college experience as writing papers and taking exams.

Most students see alcohol as an inherent part of college life, no matter how much they chose to drink.

“I don”t think it”s a matter of choice,” said Engineering senior Matt Biersack. “You”ll be surrounded by it regardless of whether you drink or not.”

“There is talk almost every weekend about what party everyone is going to, and how wasted someone is going to get,” said LSA junior Amy Ament.

Out of all University undergraduate students, 45 percent engage in binge drinking, according to an Internet-based Student Life Survey administered by the University”s Substance Abuse Research Center in 1999. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks for females and five or more for males in one sitting a measure that is widely used and nationally accepted.

“Be it to the bar, to someone”s house, or to your own house, I feel like alcohol is part of the culture of college. It is so ingrained in all of our social settings,” Biersack said.

The Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study an ongoing survey of more than 14,000 college students reports that the national rate of binge drinkers (44 percent of students) has remained the same since 1993.

Binge drinking becomes a concern because it tends to signal that alcohol-related problems are ahead. Such secondary effects range from health or legal problems to missing class or doing poorly on a test.

According to the Student Life Survey, as binge drinking episodes increase for students, their grades decrease. Three out of four binge drinkers reported missing a class within the past year after drinking. Fifty percent of frequent binge drinkers reported driving after drinking within the past year. Also, 15 percent of undergraduate females who drink reported being sexually harassed after drinking.

While negative consequences are often an effect of alcohol, some wonder why college students continue to drink. Both students and administrators point to the stresses and freedoms of college life as major factors causing alcohol consumption.

“I know a lot of people who get back from big tests and get all messed up,” said LSA freshman Scott Caesar, emphasizing the enhanced freedom freshmen feel upon leaving home for the first time.

“The social environment of college and the high stress of academics promote an atmosphere of heavy drinking,” said LSA senior G.J. Zann.

Marsha Benz, a health education coordinator with University Health Service, agrees that the stress of school can affect alcohol consumption but also considers student expectations of a new social environment as an influential factor. “There are a lot of expectations people come with, and oftentimes expectations make people act a different way,” she said.

Regardless of expectations, some students believe there are subtle pressures within college life regarding alcohol.

“I think many people, whether they”ll admit it or not, want to fit in and be a part of something,” Biersack said. “Rather than making a decision to start drinking excessively, they can get caught up in a cycle.”

According to the Student Life Survey, three general reasons students give for drinking are to enhance social relationships, to relieve negative feelings and to just get drunk.

While an intangible connection between alcohol and college continues and high binge drinking rates remain constant, educators struggle to find elements within college campuses that may promote excessive drinking. Benz targets friends as most influential in a student”s experiences with alcohol.

“Friends have a major impact on what their friends are drinking,” she said.

Other Big Ten universities have looked at bar specials as a possible cause of binge drinking, and have thus tried to limit these promotions. Such specials as $1 pitchers and two-for-one drinks can be seen as creating an environment conducive to heavy drinking.

“What the data is showing on other campuses is that when the availability to alcohol is hindered by increasing the price, then drinking rates go down,” said Patrice Flax, an alcohol initiatives coordinator with UHS.

But University administrators are hesitant to implement policies here as they keep in mind possible unintended consequences of such policies.

Carol Boyd, director of the Substance Abuse Research Center, expressed concern that if special drink prices are restricted on campus, students may drive to neighboring cities for better prices, thus increasing the dangers of drinking and driving.

“Before we institute any policy or even make recommendations to local businesses on our campus, we must evaluate the goal of the proposed change and how that change will get manifested,” she said.

Some administrators believe certain campus communities endorse heavy drinking.

“Certainly the Greek culture promotes drinking and also certain aspects of the athletic culture,” Boyd said.

But some students disagree. “The Greek system does not promote drinking. The people who are going to drink do so, and those that aren”t going to, do not,” said Engineering senior Matthew Liston, a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

While there is disagreement about what aspects of the college atmosphere may cause binge drinking, many students anticipate that alcohol will play a different role in their lives after graduating.

“It won”t be an every weekend thing like it is now. It”s part of growing up and being responsible,” Zann said.

Brieh Guevara, a University alum, said although he has more money to spend on his social life, the atmosphere is different.

“Overall, it is less conducive to heavy drinking since prices are higher, work starts early, and the notions of responsibility and accountability are more real than in school,” he said.

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