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Yale Center of Alcohol Studies Investigates Drinking Habits of Carefree Undergraduates

Find College Life Affects Drinking Little; Habits Acquired Earlier

By Richard A. Burgheim

The carpet of glass covering the Old Campus and the general alcoholic haze emanating from the fraternity area notwithstanding, Yale is the only university in the United States where everybody asked the location of the Center of Alcohol Studies gives the same directions.

At any other school the inquirer would get a different answer every time he asked the question, but at Yale he is invariably sent to a reconverted mansion on Hillhouse Ayenue, right across the street from the home of President A. Whitney Griswold.

The Yale Center of Alcohol Studies sits unobtrusively without any identification--squat but spacious like a bottle of Ballantine's scotch. Undoubtedly built in the 19th century, its four stories have mahogany-toned woodwork and a faded coat of yellow paint, which partially conceals stone, stucco, or something.

Inside, the tone is of serious, diligent endeavor; and one realizes that the day will not be distant when Yale will know as much about John Barleycorn as it does about James Boswell.

Alcohol research at Yale is nothing new. In 1930 the scientists at the Yale Laboratory of Applied Physiology began to specialize in the study of alcohol and its effect upon the human body. They were pioneers and faced the added task of cutting through a forest of fallacy.

The staff saw immediately that physiology was but one approach and that there was a great need for a clearing house of scientific information on the subject. As Selden D. Bacon, Director of the Center and a Yale professor of Sociology, states, "Alcohol cuts across almost every field of human knowledge. Sociology, literature, chemistry, economics, anthropology--to mention only a few--are all concerned at one time or another with the use and effects of alcohol."

Hence by 1942 a physician, a psychiatrist, a statistician, a psychologist, a sociologist, a lawyer, and an economist had been added to the permanent staff. By then, the Center of Alcohol Studies had become a distinct unit of the Yale Laboratory of Applied Physiology.

But from Yale it receives only a building and a token budget. The remainder of its financial support comes from individuals, federal and state agencies, industrial firms, and national foundations.

Using these resources the Center among other projects held for the last ten years a four-week Summer School of Alcohol Studies, compiled a master bibliography of literature on the subject, and established the Yale Plan Clinic for practical rehabilitation of the alcoholic.

Invented Alcomoter

Its associate director, Leon A. Greenberg, invented the Alcometer, a portable automatic laboratory which determines the amount of alcohol a person has consumed. The police can now easily distinguish between the man who should be prosecuted for drunkenness and the man who appears to be inebriated but is actually suffering from sober shock and should be rushed to the hospital.

In 1940 the Center began a special program of publication. Its myriad volumes and journals have complete documentation and absolutely no bias. The publications speak scientifically and sanely, thus incurring the wrath both of the old temperance people, who prefer the fanatical scream, and of the alcohol distributors, for whom even a whisper is too loud.

But if these facets of activity are important, Director Bacon still declares that "research is the core of our program." The Center's list of projects is endless; it is currently studying the significance of alcohol in criminal behavior of various types, the role of alcohol as a medicine for heart and emotional disturbances, drinking patterns of Americans of Italian descent, and the histories of patients in alcoholism clinics.

And these are just about a third of the contemporary interests of the Center, which is currently best-known for its college drinking survey. The staff considers this student research of particular significance, because "it may present a major tool for the conquest of alcoholism, for it will allow follow-up research on individuals first studied at the beginning of their drinking history."

The five-year study culminated in the publication last October of the now well-known book, Drinking in College; the volume brought unprecedented publicity to the Center and to the authors, Bacon and Robert Straus, a former sociologist at Yale and now a member of the faculty of the College of Medicine, Syracuse, New York.

A radio and television campaign publicized the volume, and U. S. News and World Report ran a 22-page condensation of the study. It is not surprising then that Drinking in College is currently the best seller of the Yale University Press, and its representative, Mark Carroll '50, stated, "We expect to have a second printing soon." Carroll added that it was "popular mostly among college deans."

Reading through Drinking in College one finds that author Bacon was serious when he stated, "The prevalence of wild drinking in college is just a myth, and I hope we're burying it forover."

But Bacon was equally serious and supported by fact in adding. "This doesn't mean that there aren't wild, crazy incidents. A small percentage of students--perhaps four percent of the whole--are having serious trouble, and this group needs all the help it can get."

The source for these conclusions and for the book Drinking in College was a survey begun six years ago. Since that time 17,000 American students have answered a 40-minute questionnaire on the subject; approximately 96.6 percent of the polls were usable thanks to the cooperative and sincere manner in which the questionnaires were handled.

According to the authors, the 17,000 students came from 27 colleges, "selected to represent different types: public, private, and sectarian institutions; coeducational, men's and women's; white and Negro; urban and rural; with large and small enrollments; and in different regions of the country."

It was agreed that none of the schools would be identified in the book, and only four colleges refused a request to participate in the canvass. One of these had a strict regulation against drinking; hence it was afraid that its undergraduates would emulate their professors by seeking the protection of the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering the questionnaires.

In general, the findings of the Center agreed with the opinions of temperance educator Harry S. Warner, who stated, "College alcoholic pleasures, customs, and consequences are not different from those elsewhere in influential society.

"Notwithstanding age-old traditions peculiar to colleges, honored and retained here and there, and the outbreaks of enthusiasm moistened with alcohol after big games, at fraternity, alumni, and other group affairs, liquor enjoyment is not 'collegiate.' Resort to it and dependence upon it follow social, family, and community standards."

Drinking the Same

Hence college drinkers are no different from the rest of the 75 million Americans who indulge. The same types and classes of people drink whether they are in a university or not.

Bacon's particular study showed that 74 percent of U. S. college students use alcoholic beverages, with twice as many female abstainers as male. The wealthier the undergraduates are the more likely they are to drink. Also, the incidence of drinking was found to be greater in Jews and Catholics than in Protestants, and less than half of the Mormons imbibe. Students of Russia ndescent were the most likely to drink, with French, Italian, and German descendants following closely in that order.

The survey also revealed that drinking increases with each year in college. About 30 percent more senior women indulge than freshmen. It is important to remember, however, that the poll showed that about three-fourths of the drinkers had their first taste of alcohol before entering college, with a good number of these having been initiated before the age of 11.

Most of the students closely followed the practice but not the preachment of their parents. Three-fifths of the men and one-third of the women drank although ordered not to by their parents. About 70 percent of the students ignored church instructions to abstain, while around 85 percent who were told to restrain themselves by their school teachers drank anyway.

Social Reasons

But in general, the undergraduates drank for social reasons rather than for spite, according to the canvass. It was usually a matter of complying with customs, belonging to a fraternity, or endeavoring to get along better on dates. Only 47 percent of the males drank "to get high," and a mere 17 percent reported that they indulged "to get drunk."

And from Bacon's point of view. "The most encouraging fact brought out by the survey is that the overwhelming majority of college students who drink do so twice a month or less."

On these Occasions 72 percent most frequently drink beer, 21 percent spirits, and the rest wines. The Center arbitrarily classed six bottles of beer, six glasses of wine, and four glasses of spirits as "larger amounts" and found very few students who consumed that much as the average sitting.

Hence 33 percent of the males and 92 percent of the females polled had never been drank, and two-thirds of the men and nine-fouths of the woman had never passed out.

A post-script on this subject was the author's statement that "from the findings of our study we may venture a guess that six percent of the male student drinkers and at most one percent of the woman manifest positive signs of being potential problem drinkers."

While more than half the people in the survey scorn the drunk--particularly the inebriated female, three-fifths of the undergraduates would permit drinking in moderation. And over "40 percent of the students accept the quiet abstainer but express rejection of the militant 'dry.'"

After discussing social feelings about college drinking, the report moved into a study of "Beliefs about Drinking and Sexual Behavior," which prompted one columnist to label the book a "Booze Kinsey." But its sales fall far below Kinsey's records, thus indicating that society is more curious about its neighbors' bedrooms than its barrooms.

The authors of Drinking in College, however, were uncertain about the relationship between alcohol and sex, so they neither supported nor denied the Ogden Nash theory that "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker."

Apparently drink sometimes strengthens a pass defense and on other occasions weakens it. Around three-fifths of the students did feel that drinking generally accompanies or facilitates petting, however.

This section and other parts of the book thus correct much popular misinformation and prejudice, but as one Harvard man stated, "It tells us all about the average college drinker; yet I've been in Cambridge four years and haven't seen an average guy yet."

The book purposely listed and discussed the total findings of the 27 colleges studied, without breaking them down into the different types of institutions. In the fuzzy mind of the reader there lay west of the Ivy League a vast Beer Belt, where drinking behavior bore little resemblance to that in his habitat.

He knew that he had read the definitive work on drinking in American colleges; yet he felt although the report included the Ivy League minority, that its composite findings had little relevance to these New England deviants and dissenters.

But there was still something else troubling the reader. It seemed that making a science out of drinking, as they do at Yale, took almost all the fun out of it--if anything could.

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