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Health & Wellness

Drinking commonly perceived as expected part of college experience

To show students that a hangover isn’t the only consequence of heavy drinking, BU is hosting events for National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week.

Health Matters

Along with long hours of studying, dinner at dining halls, and hanging out in the dorm with friends, late night drinking parties and trips to bars are often part of students’ expectations of college life. And although a hangover is generally considered the worst consequence of heavy drinking, underage and binge drinking can have much more dangerous outcomes. To raise awareness of the risks involved, Boston University is hosting several events in recognition of National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, October 15 to 21. 

“Most students come to campus believing that drinking is a requisite part of the college experience,” says Beth Grampetro, health and wellness educator for the Office of Residence Life, who is organizing the events. “They may learn this from older family members or friends or even just from watching movies and television shows that portray college as one big party, but no matter where they get the information, a majority of them believe this.”

This misconception among college students is “a self-fulfilling prophecy,” according to Grampetro. Because most students believe they are supposed to drink at college, most do, she says, pointing to a 2005 Core Institute survey indicating that almost 85 percent of college students try alcohol at least once in a given year.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has found that students generally try alcohol a lot more often than once a year. According to a 2002 institute study, about two million people aged 12 to 20 drank five or more drinks on one occasion five or more times a month. More than seven million reported this level of consumption at least once during the month the survey was conducted. Even more startling was the finding that 1.5 million people between 12 and 17 met the criteria for admission to an alcohol treatment program; of these, only 120,000 received treatment.

“Many students are aware of the risks associated with drinking, but they just don’t believe it can happen to them,” Grampetro says. “In conversations I have had with students here at BU, they can provide lots of examples of the negative consequences of drinking to excess, anything from a hangover to death, but they don’t necessarily make the connection between those risks and their own behavior.”

But the consequences are very real. Evaluating the results of underage drinking and binge drinking, the College Drinking Task Force found that 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including car crashes. In addition, 599,000 students between those ages are unintentionally injured, over 696,000 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, more than 97,000 are sexually assaulted or raped, 400,000 have unprotected sex, and over 100,000 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex. More than 25 percent of students report missing class, doing poorly on exams or assignments, and receiving lower grades as a result of drinking.

“When we think about the effects of binge drinking, we often think of the most severe examples, such as a college student who has died as a result of alcohol poisoning. While this is a very real consequence, the most common negative consequences are things like hangovers, memory loss, missing classes or work, and doing things they regret later,” Grampetro says. “Since alcohol lowers inhibitions, many students make poor decisions while drinking, including having unprotected sex.”

Among the events Grampetro has planned for the week was last night’s movie screening of Leaving Las Vegas, a graphic depiction of the life of a severe alcoholic. On Wednesday, October 18, at 8 p.m. in the GSU Conference Auditorium, she will host a game of Alcohol Family Feud, where teams will guess what a sampling of BU students had to say about drinking in response to survey questions. Information tables in the GSU Link on Wednesday, October 18, and Friday, October 20, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. will give students the chance to pass field sobriety tests while wearing fatal vision goggles, which simulate the impairment caused by different levels of intoxication.

For more information, call 617-353-3540.