Nearly Half of Harvard Students Binge Drink

the first in a special series

Forty-six percent of Harvard students "binge drink"--one point higher than the national average--but the frequency of that drinking is much lower than on college campuses nationwide, a recent survey conducted by The Crimson found.

Students at Harvard also rarely suffer academic or personal consequences resulting from drinking, such as falling behind in school or engaging in unplanned sexual activity.

Analysts cite Harvard's location and its students' workaholic tendencies as possible reasons for the campus's less frequent bingeing.

The Crimson's survey mirrored the College Alcohol Study (CAS) conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), which defines binge drinking as five or more drinks in a night for a man and four for a woman.

The study's director, HSPH Lecturer Henry Wechsler, attributes Harvard's lower drinking levels to students' prioritization of academics over alcohol.


"Binge drinkers at Harvard are less committed to binge drinking [than at other schools]," Wechsler says.

While they may binge less often, Harvard students match the national breakdown of college drinkers almost exactly.

The survey found that almost half of all Harvard students binge drink, a third drink moderately and a fifth do not drink at all--proportions which reflect national statistics for 18 to 23-year-old college dorm residents, according to 1999 data compiled by the CAS.

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 says it does not come as a surprise that Harvard students fall into many of the same categories as their national counterparts.

"I doubt that the Harvard population is very different from colleges or the American populace generally," Lewis writes in an e-mail message. "I don't think the forces acting on Harvard students are awfully unique, compared to other colleges."

What's The Frequency, Harvard?

Although the College has the same number of binge drinkers as colleges across the nation, Harvard drinkers would be wallflowers in Animal House. Only a quarter of Harvard's binge drinkers meet Wechsler's threshold for "frequent" bingeing, which he places at more than twice in a two-week period.

And though nearly half of all students said they had a drink during the first week of reading period, less than a third of them usually binge when they drink, while more than half of American college students do.

In comparison to other colleges in the Northeast, Harvard students stand out even more as teetotalers.

The Northeast has the highest rate of college binge drinking in the nation, says H. Wesley Perkins, a professor of sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Perkins says only a tenth of students at Northeastern colleges abstain from drinking, but Harvard students abstained at the national average of 20 percent.

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