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Drinking to Get Drunk at College

The Problem Is 'Binge Drinking'

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Updated February 14, 2014

The death of a 20-year-old LSU fraternity pledge in 1997 drew the nation's attention to the growing problem of drinking at colleges, or more specifically the increasing numbers of students who drink "to get drunk."

The LSU student who died apparently was the victim of acute alcohol poisoning, caused by consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. This obviously was an extreme example of the problems involving drinking by college students -- otherwise it would not have made the national news -- but it is symptomatic of a continuing and growing problem throughout the college community.

After the 1997 LSU incident, media attention was turned to the extent of the problem or how much information there is about it, from various viewpoints, on the Internet.

Now, wait a minute, Buddy! College and drinking go together like, well, orange juice and Vodka. It's all part of the growing up process... the rites of passage. It's been going on as long as there have been colleges and it will keep going on. What's the big deal?

The problem is not alcohol and drinking, but "binge" drinking. What is binge drinking? Most of us have always thought of a "binge" as a two or three day drunk. But the medical definition of the term is "five or more drinks in a row for men, four or more for women."

In other words, "binge drinking" is drinking for the primary purpose of getting drunk.

More and more students these days are drinking just to get "wasted." A 1993 questionnaire completed by nearly 18,000 students at 140 colleges in 40 states found that 44 percent of the students - 50 percent of the men and 39 percent of the women - binged. The numbers have increased since then. Another report from The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University indicated that 33 percent of college students now drink primarily to get drunk.

But the real eyebrow-raising statistic in the Columbia report was that 35 percent of college women reported drinking "to get drunk" in 1993, more than triple the 10 percent in 1977.

Problems Facing Bingers

Obviously, college students who frequently binge drink have more problems than their "social drinking" counterparts. A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrates how frequent binge drinkers have a much higher incident of problems than even those who "infrequently" binge and a much higher rate than those who drink moderately.

Problems range from more hangovers, missing class and getting behind on classwork to much more dangerous issues. Statistics show that 90 percent of all campus violence is alcohol related and that 80 percent of males who commit "date rape" have been drinking prior to the incident.

But perhaps even more disturbing is the statistic that 55 percent of date rape victims have been drinking prior to the incident. College men have been criticized for generations for using alcohol to lessen the resistance of their dates, but now college women are being warned not to set themselves up as victims by choosing to get drunk on their own.

The problems don't stop there. According to the AMA report, frequent binge drinkers at colleges are twice as likely to have unplanned and unprotected sex as infrequent bingers and four times more likely than moderate drinkers. Simply put, the more they drink the more likely they are to become pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted disease.

When 42 percent of college students in a recent survey admitted they had gotten drunk sometime in the last two weeks, The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse termed binge drinking as the No. 1 substance abuse problem on today's college campus.

Addressing the Problem

As the problem of binge drinking has reached epidemic proportions colleges have responded by tightening the rules regarding all drinking. Many have simply banned alcoholic beverages from all public events as a response to the possible liability facing the schools should they condone drinking in any form.

The police departments of some college towns have been forced to get tougher with off-campus drinking by enforcing the laws against underage drinking and public intoxication.

Some fraternities have banned alcohol in their houses and in their pledge recruitment policies.

But as LSU Chancellor William Jenkins told the press in 1997, "Unfortunately it is not humanly possible to regulate the conduct of our students, particularly in their off-campus actions."

Unfortunately, too many of them have seen "Animal House."

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