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UHS Treats More Students For Alcohol

The number of undergraduates who sought medical attention from University Health Services (UHS) for alcohol poisoning has decreased since last November, marking a break with the significant rise in alcohol-related visits earlier this year.

But first-years still lead the pack, comprising 36 percent of the students who came to UHS in December. First-years made up nearly half of the admits in the first three months of last semester.

“First-years are the least-experienced people in understanding responsible use of alcohol,” said Dean of Freshmen Elizabeth Studley Nathans. “But also in many cases, they are much more mature—or their peers are much more mature—about getting help.”

She also said that drinking is a reality of college life.

“Realistically, no college or university is going to be free of alcohol problems,” Nathans said.

In December, the number of alcohol-related admits to UHS totaled 14 students, dropping to only four students in January. These numbers are far fewer than earlier this fall.

In September, 24 undergraduates sought treatment at UHS, and in both October and November, 22 students were admitted because of alcohol poisoning.

Director of UHS David S. Rosenthal ’59 said he was reluctant to call this drop as a marked change from the past. Rosenthal said that only if the numbers are consistently low, then he could cite the effectiveness of programs that are working to discourage alcohol abuse.

“If we continue to see some evidence that these numbers continue to be in the three to four range, then we can say, ‘Let’s look at these interventions and see what’s working,’” he said.

Although Rosenthal is reluctant to point to any one factor that could have caused the decrease, he said winter recess, reading and exam periods and the colder temperatures might have contributed to the November to January drop.

“I hate to make any assumptions,” he said. “I’m just glad that it’s less.”

Historically, UHS statistics indicate that there is a downward of alcohol-related admits from November onward. However, last semester’s November to January 82 percent drop in admits is the largest in the past six years.

Last semester, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 formed a Committee on Alcohol and Health to investigate campus alcohol abuse. The committee, chaired by Currier House Master Joseph L. Badaracco, is examining what initiatives and social alternatives could curtail binge drinking. It is expected to issue a report on its findings later this year.

—Staff writer Margaret W. Ho can be reached at mwho@fas.harvard.edu.