- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Substance abuse on college campuses is nothing new, but it is taking a more extreme and dangerous form, with higher rates of frequent binge drinking and prescription drug abuse leading to more negative consequences for students such as arrests and risky sexual behavior.

That is the portrait painted by a comprehensive report tying together a range of research on college substance abuse, supplemented with some of its own survey data.

The report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University argues that substance abuse isn’t an inevitable rite of passage for young adults. Rather, it argues that a particular culture of excessive consumption has flourished on college campuses and calls on educators to take bolder stands against students and alumni to combat it.

“If they make this a priority, they can do something about it,” said Joseph Califano, chairman and president of the center.

He called on colleges and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to take steps such as prohibiting alcohol advertising during high-profile events including the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The report, being released today, relies largely on research that already has appeared in various forms, but assembles it to emphasize findings particular to college students.

Among the highlights:

c The proportion of students who drink (about 68 percent) and binge drink (40 percent) has changed little since 1993, but the number of students who binge drink frequently (take five drinks at a time, three or more times in two weeks), who drink 10 or more times a month and who get drunk three or more times in a month has increased substantially.

• Hundreds of thousands more students are abusing prescription drugs including Ritalin, Adderall and OxyContin than during the early 1990s.

• Analyzing outside survey data, the center calculated that 23 percent of college students meet the medical criteria for substance abuse or dependence. That is about triple the proportion in the general population.

Young adults in general have higher abuse rates, so a higher rate for college students is to be expected. But other research indicates that college students drink more than high school peers who don’t go to college, said Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health, who published similar findings in 2002.

Both researchers involved in the report and outside specialists say they have seen troubling changes in how students drink in recent years.

“The percentage of kids who drink and binge drink is essentially the same between 1993 and 2005, but the intensity of the drinking has dramatically changed,” Mr. Califano said.

At the University of Kentucky, longtime administrator Victor Hazard says he, too, has noticed a change, with more students drinking simply to get drunk.

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