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The more students change, the more drinking stays the same on some college campuses

September 11, 2009 | 10:32 am

Anti-binge drinking campaigns have been fixtures on college campuses for years, warning of the physical, mental and legal ramifications of drinking too much. But are students getting the message?

Koqtgjnc Maybe not, since drinking habits haven't changed much in 12 years on U.S. campuses where drinking is heaviest, according to a new study in this month's issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Researchers looked at periodic surveys given to students on 18 heavy-drinking campuses from 1993 though 2005. The surveys asked not only about their drinking habits, but also the consequences of excess imbibing, such as having a hangover, missing class, damaging property, and driving while drunk.

Results showed little statistical change over time. In 1993, 58.1% of participants described themselves as heavy episodic drinkers, defined by five (for men) or four (for women) drinks or more per drinking occasion at least once in the last two weeks. In 2005, 55.8% described themselves that way. The number of abstainers grew slightly, as did the number of frequent heavy episodic drinkers, those who drank five (men) or four (women) drinks on three or more occasions in the last two weeks, rose a bit more.

Problems associated with drinking also stayed about the same, with some exceptions--those who reported driving after any drinking slowly rose from 1993 to 1997 before tapering off, ending with the same percentage in 2005 as in 1993.

The researchers speculated on factors that could contribute to the stagnant statistics, such as campuses not doing enough to curb heavy alcohol consumption, or anti-binge drinking campaigns not getting through to students. They argue that colleges might need additional support from other sources such as law enforcement, parents and boards of trustees.

"More research is needed," wrote the study authors, "to understand what colleges are doing to combat heavy episodic drinking, whether they are using recommended interventions—the barriers to implementing recommended interventions—and whether their efforts effectively reduce alcohol use and related consequences."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Craig Hartley / Bloomberg