Fraternity keg parties, “beer pong” tournaments and dollar pitcher nights are rites of passage for college students.
But authorities are cracking down, saying alcohol is the common denominator not just in flunking out but in campus rapes, criminal mischief and even deaths.
Spurred by an evolving view of their community role, colleges and universities have made strides against disruptive drinking with stricter policies, tough penalties and more education.
But researchers say students are doing more binge drinking, which raises new challenges.
And just as students have conflicting views on alcohol, officials have different ideas on how to curb destructive use.
“You crack down on one area, and it moves to another area,” said Drew Hunter, president of the BACCHUS Network, a peer-based education program that focuses on alcohol abuse and prevention. Responsible Drinking. To reduce excessive drinking, many universities have turned to intervention, Web-based self-assessment tests and even medical amnesty, a policy that shields students from sanctions if they call for help because of an alcohol-related emergency.
Education alone doesn’t work, officials say. The same goes for scare tactics.
“You can educate students, but as long as alcohol is thrown at them … they’re going to drink,” said Henry Wechsler, a social psychologist and the principal investigator of the College Alcohol Study, conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health since 1992.
He said limiting access is crucial to curbing consumption. “I don’t want to knock education … but they have to do a lot more.”
The biggest binge drinkers remain white males in the Greek system and some athletes, even though they are targets of most information, Dr. Wechsler said.
Though some researchers dispute the term and definition, binge drinking is described by the Harvard study as five drinks in a row by a man and four drinks by a woman on one occasion.
Unlike their grandparents’ generation, today’s college students drink to get drunk and do so more frequently, Dr. Wechsler said. Nearly a quarter say they don’t drink, and almost 1 in 5 are binge drinkers, the Harvard researchers found.
Along with education, the university uses discipline, treatment programs and intervention to combat the problem. It doled out 65 suspensions in the past year for alcohol-related offenses. Self-assessments More universities, including Southern Methodist University and next year the University of Texas at Austin, have taken a new approach: drinking self-assessment tests.
More than 450 universities use AlcoholEdu, a multimedia interactive program developed by Outside The Classroom Inc., one of at least nine companies that offer such products. It asks about alcohol use, family drinking history, athletic status and other issues.
Most use it as part of sanctions for alcohol offenses such as underage drinking, but 140 universities offer the course to new students.
The University of Illinois found that students who completed the program reported 50 percent fewer negative health, social and academic problems related to drinking than students who hadn’t taken the course.
Other researchers say knowledge-based prevention programs alone are ineffective in behavior change. Outside The Classroom Inc. acknowledges that the course can’t be relied upon alone.
At the University of California, Berkeley, where a moratorium on alcohol at its 70 fraternities and sororities went into effect in May, the course was required for the 6,900 incoming students this fall.
A 10- to 15-minute program developed at San Diego State University and University of Texas has also become popular. Check Up to Go, or e-CHUG, gives students an assessment of their drinking habits. The program converts the amount of alcohol a student consumes monthly to the equivalent number of cheeseburgers, a striking comparison for some test-takers. “A big problem for a lot of university students is that they don’t really know what problem drinking is compared to non-problem drinking,” the AMA’s Mr. Yoast said.
Dave Pierson, 23, of New Orleans said the results of an e-CHUG test he took at the University of Texas showed he drank more than 95 percent of males his age did.
“It said I drank the equivalent of 44 cheeseburgers in a month,” he said over a noontime drink at Cain & Abel’s, a bar on the west side of the Austin campus.
This year, University of Texas officials also added the medical amnesty policy, already in place at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and Emory University in Atlanta.
“One reason alcohol poisoning deaths occur is that a student is left to ‘sleep it off’ because other people are afraid of getting in trouble,” said Chuck Roper, coordinator of the Alcohol and Drug Education Program at the University of Texas.
Robert Maust, head of a substance abuse panel at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said changing college culture isn’t easy, especially when some believe it isn’t a school’s responsibility to educate students on alcohol.
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