Website Charts Alcohol Abuse

Harvard undergraduates now have a new way to get in touch with their student body. Harvard students can now access, an interactive website aimed at assessing and preventing alcohol abuse among college students, from the Harvard University Health Services’ (UHS) homepage.

The website, created by Inflexxion, Inc. in Newton, Mass.—a company which also designed the anti drunk-driving webpage “Crash Site”—asks students to complete a “risk-assessment” profile. Users are given immediate feedback which compares their alcohol consumption to that of the national average based on gender, race, class, athletic participation and involvement in fraternities or sororities.

It also assesses their behaviors and beliefs about drinking at college to provide tips on how to keep their alcohol consumption under control.

Dr. Emil J. Chiauzzi, the principal investigator for the site, said alcohol awareness campaigns on college campuses just aren’t enough.

“Research has shown there hasn’t been a large change in college drinking,” he said.

Chiauzzi said he hopes that immediate feedback and motivational stories from students who have had drinking-related problems will encourage their peers to reform.

One segment of the website calculates the caloric intake of a user’s average night of drinking and then charts how many hours of any given activity it would take to burn those calories.

Students can update their password-protected file at any time to track their most recent drinking habits and can also read up on articles such as “Beer Bellies: What really causes that not-so-cute tummy?” and “Having Sober Sex: Leaving the Love Light On.”

Twenty-five other colleges and universities have also introduced their students to the website, including Brown, Georgetown and the University of California-Davis. Future self-assessment websites linked with will address sexually transmitted diseases, eating disorders and stress management.

Jennifer S. Axsom ’04, co-chair of the Student Advisory Health Council, said the site might “spark critical thinking among students about their behavior,” although a website aimed at preventing alcohol abuse is not perfect. She added that the attractive interface would appeal to users.

Richard D. Kadison at UHS, chief of mental health services, said he hopes the accessibility of the site will attract a large number of Harvard students.

“We want to add ways for students to get more information,” he said. “UHS is tremendously under-utilized.”

Kadison added that although students are not likely to wake up after a night of drinking and call UHS with questions, students might look at the site in the early morning hours when they are cruising the Internet.

“Students may find it too stigmatizing to come to UHS for mental health services,” Kadison said. “It is a general philosophy issue...a bunch of 50 year old doctors telling them to stop drinking or to practice safer sex might not make much of an impact.”