Saturday, August 27, 2011

College Students & Binge Drinking: A Deadly Combination

Photo Credit: Tristen.Pelton
For many young people, alcohol use and college life go together like peanut butter and jelly. But for an increasing number of students, what may feel like innocent fun for the purpose of socializing can lead to unintended consequences.

A freshmen student at the University of Central Florida (UCF) near my home in Orlando passed away this weekend after spending at least part of the evening drinking at a fraternity party. Authorities do not yet know if alcohol was a contributing factor in the death of 18-year-old Ann Hefferin, but her death points the spotlight on a major area of concern for our nation's college campuses.

From the Orlando Sentinel:
"Like many college campuses, UCF tries to prevent alcohol abuse through a variety of alcohol-education programs. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education recognized UCF's programs as a national model, university officials said.

All freshmen are required to complete a two-hour, online course that covers alcohol-related topics such as how to call for help if a friend appears drunk and how to refuse a drink. The college's Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Programming office also gives regular presentations in classes, student organization meetings and residence halls.

The first week of school is the time of the riskiest drinking, said Scott T. Walters, professor of behavioral sciences at University of North Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health. Walters co-authored a recent study that found incoming college freshmen to be at the highest risk for excessive drinking.

The study, published this month in Addictive Behaviors, surveyed 76,882 students from more than 258 colleges, for the eight weeks prior to college starting and five weeks after. The summer before college, kids' drinking increases some, and students tend not to be as careful about their drinking. But the turning point was the first week of school, which Walters called "gap week."

"The real kicker were the number of youths who answered yes to questions regarding intent to get drunk," said Walters, author of "Talking to College Students About Alcohol." "Many more answered yes to questions about whether they planned to drink shots, play drinking games, or intentionally get drunk." Drinking tends to taper after the first few weeks.

He cites a new freedom and minimal supervision as factors in binge drinking, particularly in the early weeks. "Parents are gone; courses have no demands. Kids are at loose ends, and they fall through the cracks. They are trying to socialize and make friends and think alcohol will help," he said.

What would help, he says, is a better hand-off. "Parents should stay around. There should be more supervision, or maybe schools should make academic requirements happen up front, instead of having a blow-off week." He also encourages parents to stay in touch with their students, especially at first. "Get to know your student's friends, space and schedule."

Drinking during adolescence has been on the rise in the United States for years, said Mark Goldman, professor of psychology at University of South Florida. "Fifty percent of young people have had their first drink before their 15th birthday. What happens in college happens against a background of a high level of drinking that's been going on anyway," Goldman said.
For college students seeking to fit into a new environment, impressing others through one's drinking prowess can seem like a wise thing to do. But binge drinking and constant partying will never completely satisfy those looking for belonging and acceptance. If you find that you are often getting drunk but still remaining thirsty, please read this article from on how to "Quench Your Real Thirst."

To read the complete article about the tragic death of Ann Hefferin please click here.

To learn more about the number of people that are affected by the consequences of excessive alcohol use by college students please click here.

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