Study Finds Binge Drinking Still High

Five years after a School of Public Health (SPH) study focused national attention on college drinking, binge drinking remains at dangerously high levels, according to a follow-up study by Dr. Henry Wechsler released this month.

Wechsler found that 42.7 percent of college students are binge drinkers-barely down from 44.1 percent in 1993. The survey defines binge drinking as four drinks at a time for women, five at a time for men.

The study, published in the Journal of American College Health, calls binge drinking "by far the single most serious public-health problem confronting American colleges."

At the same time, the study found that more students say they do not drink at all than in 1993--19 percent of students surveyed, up from 15.6 percent. Such results suggest a "polarization on college campuses in growth of abstainers and more intense drinking among binge drinkers," Wechstler said.

Researchers surveyed 14,521 students at 116 college campuses--including Harvard--to compile the report.


The survey also studied the side-effects of binge drinking--interruption of sleep or studying, having to "babysit" a drunk friend or roommate, personal arguments and unwanted sexual advances--and found that three out of four students have experienced these "secondhand effects."

According to the study, men drink more than women, and white unmar- ried males under 23 who belong to fraternitiesdrink more than any other group.

Commuter schools, historically black collegesand schools with strict alcohol rules report thelowest rates of binging. But the category underwhich Harvard falls--residential colleges in theNortheast--have the highest rates.

Harvard Ways

The study did not break down its findings byschool, but according to Dean of the College HarryR. Lewis '68, "our numbers are somewhat lower thannational averages, but by no means comfortinglylow."

In an e-mail message, Lewis said that "even thebrightest and most promising students coming tocolleges like MIT and Harvard are notinvulnerable, as immortal as they may feel in theexcitement of being here." Last year, MITfirst-year Scott Krueger died after binge drinkingat a fraternity party.

Following Krueger's death, Lewis and Dean ofStudents Archie C. Epps III sent a letter tostudents clarifying the College's alcohol policyand promising stricter enforcement of the rules.

Lewis said the College has turned to studentgroups for help to stem alcohol abuse. "A lot ofwork was done with undergraduate organizations andteams last year to try to get the leadership toencourage responsible behavior," he said.

Sarah C. Pedersen '00, co-chair of Alcohol andDrug Dialogue, said much of her group's activityis aimed at curbing binge drinking.

"Binge drinking has become more of our focus,because that's what causes most of the accidents,"Pedersen said referring to Krueger's death. "Ihope that all students can learn from thetragedies that have happened."

Many students say they believe Harvard studentsdrink less than at other schools.

"It doesn't seem there is as much massivedrinking going on as other schools," said LukeArribas '00.

Lewis attributed Harvard's lower level ofdrinking to the lack of fraternities on campus andto education efforts aimed at first-years.

But several students said binge drinking is aproblem among students who do drink.

"I think the people who do drink, drink a lot,"said one junior who did not wish to be named

Recommended Articles