Frequent binge drinking has more than doubled at women’s colleges in the past decade, according to a recently released report by the Harvard School of Public Heath.
The report, which surveyed 119 colleges over the last eight years, showed an increase from 5.3 percent to 11.9 percent in the number of students at women’s colleges who engage in frequent binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as drinking four or more servings of alcohol in one sitting for women and five or more for men. Binge drinking is classified as frequent if done at least once a week.
Binge drinking in general also significantly increased at women’s colleges, with 32.1 percent of students reporting binge drinking in 2001, up from 24.5 percent eight years ago.
“We don’t know exactly why this is happening,” said Henry Wechsler, director of College Alcohol Studies at the School of Public Heath, which conducted the study. “No place is isolated, and women do go to other colleges for their social life. They may bring this style of drinking back with them.”
Despite this rise, women’s institutions still fall behind co-ed colleges in terms of alcohol abuse. The study found that roughly 40 percent of women at co-ed institutions binge drink, a rate that has remained largely unchanged since 1993.
Likewise, almost twice as many women at co-ed colleges reported frequently binge drinking than students at all-women’s colleges, but frequent binge drinking rates are rising faster at the all-women’s schools.
Another distinct trend noted by the report is a polarization of students since 1993—more student are either abstaining completely from alcohol or frequently binge drinking. Each category increased by about one-fifth, with abstainers increasing from 16.4 percent to 19.3 percent and frequent binge drinkers increasing from 19.7 to 22.8 percent of the college population.
Half of Harvard undergraduates surveyed by The Crimson in January 2001 reported drinking enough to be classified as binge drinkers, while one-fifth said they abstained from drinking. One-quarter of Harvard’s binge drinkers met Wechsler’s threshold for frequent binge drinking, according to The Crimson survey.
Binge drinking gained national prominence in the early ’90s as the leading public health problem for college students. Organizations ranging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to Congress, as well as most colleges, have responded by taking steps to fight alcohol abuse among college students.
Wechsler cited as examples the growing availability and popularity of substance-free dorms, tougher alcohol laws and increased education of the dangers of alcohol by colleges.
However, even with these actions college binge drinking has remained constant.
“My interpretation is that [binge drinking] is such a long standing and deeply intrenched behavior that it’s going to take much more to change it,” Wechsler said.
Despite the apparent unwillingness of many college students to change their drinking habits, the School of Public Health’s study revealed that a majority of students favor policies to fight binge drinking.
An overwhelming 90 percent of students favored clarifying alcohol rules, providing more alcohol-free recreational and cultural opportunities and offering more alcohol-free residences. Prohibiting kegs and enforcing alcohol rules more strictly were supported by approximately 60 percent of all students surveyed.