Study: Students Binge Drink

A study released yesterday by the Harvard School of Public Health (SPH) reveals that first-year college students are likely to become binge drinkers even if they did not abuse alcohol while in high school.

The study, which was conducted by Henry Wechsler, director of college alcohol studies for the SPH, found that 84 percent of college firstyears viewed heavy alcohol use as a problem on their campus after being there just a few weeks.

Wechsler, whose study involved 720 first-years at 13 colleges across the nation, said yesterday he was disturbed by the implications of his findings.

"Every student said that alcohol is easy to get [on campus]," he said. "That tells you about the function of the minimum age drinking law on the campus."

Wechsler said he believes schools can work to reduce alcohol abuse on campus.


"If a school is concerned with heavy drinking, then they have to have a consistent policy," he said, adding that it is not enough to simply warn students against underage drinking.

"It's really now a case of don't ask don't tell," he added.

The study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations, follows another study led by Wechsler which showed that binge drinking on college campuses creates serious "second-hand" effects on students who do not binge drink.

The study defines binge drinking as five drinks in a row by men and four by women in the two weeks before the survey.

The first-year study also found that binge drinking can cause serious side effects for those students who are not involved in the behavior but are affected by their peers actions. Wechsler said students should not feel responsible for cleaning up vomit or for babysitting roommates at parties. Nor should they be awakened or have their study time interrupted by those parties.

"Students have to be able to demand a quality of life that isn't filled with these problems," he said.

Wechsler said it is up to college administrators and students to work together to solve the problem of underage binge drinking.

"When students and the administration can agree on an acceptable code of conduct, then we can start to change the norms around binge drinking," he said.

Although all of the study's respondents said alcohol was easy to obtain at local bars with fake identification,Wechsler said colleges could still limit theeffects of binge drinking on campus.

"At least make it hard to get it," he said. "Idon't any means think that there should be kegs ona college campus." Still, he said he believesschools will change not be implementing tighterrestrictions on alcohol, but by changing socialstandards.

"I think the major issue is not one ofsearching out alcohol,' he said. "I think themajor issue is changing norms. That isaccomplished by appealing to students who are notbinge drinkers and empowering them not to acceptthe negative effects of binge drinking.