Study Reports Rise in College Binge Drinking

Recommends more resources be put to problem

Frequent binge drinking is on the rise at colleges across the country, according to a study released yesterday by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

The study says that 23 percent of American college students were frequent binge drinkers in 1999, up from about 20 percent in 1993. The report also claims more than two of every five college students--44 percent--engage in some kind of binge drinking.

Henry Wechsler, director of HSPH's College Alcohol Studies program and the study's principal investigator, said the levels of binge drinking are probably lower at Harvard.


"Elite schools like Harvard and MIT are fortunate in that they draw students who are less inclined to binge drink," said Wechsler, who is also a lecturer at HSPH.

"They can't really pat themselves on the back for low rates of binge drinking because they had a lower rate to begin with," he added.

While this year's study shows an increase in frequent binge drinking, Wechsler said it also shows an increase in the number of "abstainers"--who drink no alcohol at all--from 15 percent in 1993 to 19 percent in 1999.

"Today's study shows a continuing trend in drinking on college campuses that is more strongly polarized, with almost one-fourth of all students being frequent binge drinkers and almost one-fifth being abstainers," Wechsler wrote in summarizing the study's findings.

The HSPH study is based on a survey of more than 14,000 college students at 119 four-year colleges in 39 states. The research was funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Wechsler said yesterday that schools should allocate more resources to addressing binge drinking problems. According to the study, ways of addressing the issue include offering alcohol-free social events and trying to raise awareness of the problem.

But Wechsler also cautioned against relying on "magic bullet solutions" and said that solving the problem requires the help of all members of the campus community.

"No single program or approach is going to do this," he said at a press conference announcing the study's findings yesterday.

"I wouldn't try to do it myself." he advised administrators. "You have to involve the community and all parts of campus."

For men, the study defined binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks in a row at least once in two weeks. For women, it defined binge drinking as consuming four or more drinks in a row during the same time frame.

Frequent binge drinkers consumed this amount at least three times in the two weeks prior to completing the survey.

Wechsler's study is detailed in an article in the March 2000 issue of the Journal of American College Health.

When the study is next performed in 2001, Wechsler said, he hopes to visit the sites of participating schools to observe their "policies in action" and find the most effective ways of addressing binge drinking.

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