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The number of undergraduate students seeking treatment for alcohol intoxication or poisoning at University Health Services is likely to rise for the second straight academic year, according to data provided by the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services.
In total, 102 students sought medical attention for alcohol-related sickness at Stillman Infirmary last semester—and the number will likely reach roughly 200 by the end of the spring term, according to AODS Director Ryan M. Travia.
If the figure hits that benchmark, it will represent a 43 percent rise over the past two years—marking an upward trend after a period of stabilization from the founding of AODS in 2005 until 2008. Prior to the creation of AODS, the number of hospital cases had increased nearly nine-fold over six years.
Travia said it has been difficult to credit the recent spike in hospitalizations to elevated incidences of high-risk drinking or to increased willingness among students to seek medical attention for their friends.
“There’s a greater awareness about the amnesty policy, and thus a greater willingness to ask for help,” Travia said, referring to Harvard’s policy that grants disciplinary immunity to students who seek medical assistance for intoxicated peers.
But simply attributing the rise in hospitalizations to heightened awareness of the amnesty policy is an “optimistic outlook,” Travia said.
He pointed to a number of confounding factors in the hospital data as reasons to suspect that several factors contributed to the increase in Stillman admissions.
In previous years, male and female undergraduates have come to the infirmary for alcohol-induced illness in roughly equal numbers, but nearly 64 percent of those hospitalized this year were male, according to Travia.
He also said that while freshmen remain the highest risk group—comprising nearly half of this year’s hospitalizations—Stillman admissions have actually risen in number among all four class years.
Director of Behavioral Health and Academic Counseling Paul J. Barreira said he was also uncertain what caused the spike in hospitalizations, given that UHS mental health screening has revealed no rise in the incidence of depression and anxiety—which often spur alcohol abuse—among students.
But the economic downturn may play a role in students’ drinking habits, Barreira said.
“Last year and this year...the total chaos in the economy has put enormous strain on families and students,” he said. “In the general population, the rate of depression, the rate of suicide, and the rate of drinking has risen enormously. Why would the student population be immune?”
President of the Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisor program Cullen D. McAlpine ’11 called the Stillman data “disturbing” and said he will be discussing the increase in hospitalizations with the 30 other DAPAs during their next monthly staff meeting.
McAlpine said he hopes to make an impact in the immediate future by planning alternative social events for the night before Housing Day, a traditionally alcohol-soaked event.
“Our focus right now is on River Run, which is basically a combination of alcohol and fire, which is never a good idea,” McAlpine said.
—Staff writer Evan T.R. Rosenman can be reached at email@example.com.
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