- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2000

Nearly half of American college students are stillbinge drinking, despite warnings about health and safety dangers.
Thelatest findings from the National College Alcohol Study, released inMarch, say the number of binge drinkers defined as men who have fiveor more drinks in a row or women who have four or more has remainedvirtually unchanged since researchers began studying college students in1993. The most recent data show a 2.9 percent increase in the number ofbinge drinkers during the six years of the survey.
The 1999 survey of14,000 undergraduates conducted by the Harvard School of Public Healthdetermines that 44 percent of students engaged in binge drinking,compared with 43 percent in 1997 and 45 percent in 1993.
The CollegeAlcohol Study, which released reports in 1993 and 1997, also reports nochange in the number of abstainers (19 percent in 1999, the same as in1997) and an increase in the number of frequent bingedrinkers.
Frequent binge drinking, defined by the Harvard researchersas binge drinking at least three times within two weeks, has increased14 percent since 1993. About 23 percent of all students are frequentbinge drinkers, says Harvey Wechsler, director of the College AlcoholStudy.
"It is disturbing that these findings show an increase in themost extreme and high-risk form of drinking," Mr. Wechsler says. "Thisis, in part, counteracted by a larger number of abstainers. Thatincrease, to 19 percent, occurred in 1997 and was maintained in1999."
Frequent binge drinkers consume over two-thirds of all thealcohol that college students drink, according to the College AlcoholStudy. They also account for more than three-fifths of the most seriousalcohol-related problems on campus, such as vandalism, drinking anddriving, and injuries from fights.
The 1999 survey showed furtherincreases in the intensity of drinking. The proportion of those whodrank on 10 or more occasions in the previous month increased from 18percent to 22 percent between 1993 and 1999. The portion of those whosaid they drank to get drunk increased from 40 percent to 47 percentduring that time period.
"The 1999 study shows a continuing trend indrinking on college campuses that is more strongly polarized," Mr.Wechsler says. "Almost one-fourth of all students are frequent bingedrinkers, and almost one-fifth are abstainers."
The number ofabstainers, which was 15 percent in 1993, has increased enough to bereflected in environmental changes, the study reports. One in threestudents who live in a campus residence hall lives in an alcohol-freeresidence, the study says. An additional 13 percent of respondents saidthey would like to live in such housing. This is in sharp contrast tostudents who live in fraternity or sorority houses, where three out offour students are binge drinkers.
Where a student lives also is likelyto influence his behavior, the study says. Binge-drinking ratesdecreased by almost 6 percent among students living in dorms on campus,and they increased by 6 percent among students living off campus.
Mr.Wechsler and campus administrators say some of the small changes may bedue in part to campus efforts to promote alcohol awareness, and tocampus crackdowns on underage drinking and violation of campus drinkingrules.
"The big picture of binge drinking on college campuses remainedremarkably unchanged through the 1990s," Mr. Wechsler says. "However,the most recent survey may reflect the effects of prevention efforts.There is some indication that on-campus prevention programs may behaving an impact."
Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University ofIowa in Iowa City, one of 10 universities receiving funds from theRobert Wood Johnson Foundation to curb campus drinking, agrees.
"[TheCollege Alcohol Study] reminds us that we all continue to suffer fromthe harmful effects of excessive drinking," she said upon the report'srelease. "We cannot attack this problem without being completelytruthful about its dimensions."

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