Study Shows Extent of College Drinking

Despite strict laws and school rules, college campuses remain hotspots for underage drinking, according to a recent study by the School of Public Health (SPH).

The researchers, led by Henry Wechsler, director of College Alcohol Studies at SPH, polled 7000 students under 21 across the country and found that 63 percent had been drinking in the last 30 days.

"I was not surprised to learn that underage drinkers seem to have especially serious problems about alcohol abuse, as it does correspond very generally to what I have observed," said Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68.

An additional 5000 college students between the ages of 21 and 23 were surveyed. The study found they drank more frequently than their younger counterparts, but consumed less at each sitting.

The vast majority of underage students reported that obtaining alcohol was "very easy." More than half said they paid less than one dollar for a drink, got it free, or paid a set price for an unlimited number of drinks compared to 15 percent of students 21 to 23 years of age.

"Easily obtainable cheap alcohol, especially beer, fuels binge drinking for underage college students," Wechsler said.

In fact, the areas around college campuses often have many stores that sell alcohol, which drives down prices, the study found.

Campus drinking garnered media attention in 1997 when Scott Krueger, a first-year at MIT, died from alcohol consumed at a fraternity party.

This tragedy, however, does not seem to have had a sobering effect on younger students.

More than 40 percent had five or more drinks at one time compared with 27 percent of the older students, the researchers found.

The study also found underage students were also significantly more likely to experience alcohol-related problems, such as engaging in unplanned sexual activity, damaging property, injuring themselves or being treated for alcohol overdose.

"I suspect that some of the problems with underage drinkers are the result of a combination of the daring and urgency factors in doing something that is prohibited, combined with inexperience," Lewis says.

One alcohol-related problem not associated with underage drinkers is drunk driving. They are half as likely to drive while intoxicated as those over 21.

Wechsler speculated that this might be related to zero-tolerance drunk driving laws aimed at under-aged drinkers.