Beer Bereavement Runs Rampant at Harvard

To the editors:

Crimson editors cannot conceive of college football without kegs of beer. Harvard students dash off letters of protest over keg bans (Letters, “University Ban on Kegs at Tailgates Laughable,” Oct. 9). It’s an interesting commentary on college drinking that more outraged protest is expressed about curtailing the supply of alcohol than about major social or national problems. In recent years more riots have occurred at American colleges about beer than about economic conditions or armed conflicts.

Beer bereavement runs rampant in the Yard. Those protesting new restrictions on the availability of alcohol claim that if we alter the manner in which alcohol is delivered to the bloodstream, students will drink more. A corollary of that line of thought is that any controls on alcohol, especially banning alcohol for those under 21, produces more drinking.

At the School of Public Health College Alcohol Study we have examined student drinking at 140 colleges, and we have surveyed over 50,000 students in 40 states over a 10-year period. Our findings show that:

Fourty-four percent of all college students binge drink, and half of these heavy drinkers do so more than once a week. An estimated 1,400 die and 500,000 sustain injuries each year in drinking-related incidents.

Ivy league schools among others have heavy drinking traditions that promote this type of behavior, and have fraternities and sororities or clubs at which drinking is the main activity.

Athletes and sports fans are among the heaviest drinking groups on college campuses.

Price and availability drives drinking up, especially heavy drinking. Cheap alcohol provided in high volume is the fuel for binge drinking.

Universities have the moral and legal responsibility for taking prudent action to avert problems that are known to be likely to occur.

Restrictions on drinking do not cause more drinking and in many cases have resulted in lower drinking levels. Students at colleges in states with more comprehensive enforced minimum drinking age laws and stronger control of the way alcohol is marketed and sold—happy hours, kegs, underpricing and special promotions—are less likely to binge drink and drink and drive.

It’s time to stop crying in your beer.

Henry Wechsler

Oct. 9, 2002

The writer is the principal investigator of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study and author of Dying to Drink: Confronting Binge Drinking on College Campuses.