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Campus Life + Health & Wellness

Here’s Looking at You

Alcohol on campus: nearly everybody drinks, so what’s the problem?


Watch this video on YouTube

In the video above, we ask students if alcohol is a problem on campus.

Part one of a five-part series exploring drinking on campus.

Ask students on BU’s Charles River Campus if drinking is a problem and most will say that it’s not. But ask them about dangerous drunken behavior they have witnessed, and you’ll be there for a while, listening to stories of unwanted sexual advances, blackouts, and late-night ambulance rides to local hospitals.

Like most students, Ashley Cohen (CAS’11) doesn’t see a problem, at least “as long as students know their limit and don’t get to the point where they make poor decisions.” But, she says, they often do exceed their limit. How often? Almost every weekend, Cohen finds herself helping friends who have had too much to drink.

So is it a problem? If the definition of a problem is something that Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore thinks about when he lies in bed at night, the answer is yes.

“Alcohol is one of the things that keeps me up at night,” says Elmore (SED’87). “Some of the worst things that I see happen to students happen when students drink too much.”

October, it seems, is a month for drinking too much. It’s the month of Oktoberfest, cool nights and cold beer, when the sidewalks of nearby Allston are strewn with red plastic cups. It’s the month that first-year students begin to get their feet under them, and the month that many trip over those feet after being introduced to college drinking games like beer pong. It’s the month each year that the Boston University Police see the greatest number of transports, short for medical transports, or trips to local hospitals by ambulances carrying students too drunk to function (52 in October 2009, up from 25 in 2008). And it’s the month that the Bacchus Network, a university-based organization focusing on health and safety initiatives, marks National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, which runs from October 17 to 23, 2010.

BU Today chose Alcohol Awareness Week to publish this five-part series exploring several aspects of student drinking. We present the facts, the numbers, and the opinions of students, administrators, and experts on an issue that has more influence than most people realize on the rest of young people’s lives.

Tomorrow’s segment, about pressure from peers and media, discusses the forces that make it impossible for a BU student to take the T from one end of campus to the other without seeing an advertisement that glamorizes drinking. On Wednesday, we show why students who emerge from a night of overindulgence with only a hangover are the lucky ones (among the reasons—60 percent of college women infected with sexually transmitted diseases report being under the influence of alcohol at the time they contracted the disease). Thursday, we take on what Elmore calls “the elephant in the room,” the great debate about lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18. And on Friday, BU Today looks at the efforts here and on other campuses to encourage students to use alcohol responsibly.

First, some numbers: A nonscientific survey posted on BU Today for four days in October 2010 was filled out by 3,143 readers.

The survey, intended to glean a snapshot of alcohol use on campus, showed that 89 percent of respondents have never thought they had a drinking problem, and 11 percent have thought they might. Just under 79 percent said they would know where to go for help if they had a problem. Asked how many drinks they have in a week, roughly 35 percent said six or more; 38 percent said three to five, and 28 percent said none. Nearly half of those surveyed—about 45 percent—said they had blacked out because they drank too much, and 51 percent acknowledged that they had done something they regretted because they were drunk. Asked how much friends influence their drinking, approximately 60 percent answered “some,” 32 percent said “not at all,” and 10 percent answered “a great deal.” More than half of the respondents—53 percent—said they were not yet of legal drinking age.

Those numbers put BU students in the ballpark with students at other schools. A far more scientific study conducted by the Core Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2006 found that on average, college students consume about 5.4 drinks per week (males drink 8.4 drinks per week, females 3.6 drinks per week).

And the Task Force on College Drinking, created in 1998 by the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, cites a 2002 finding that 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. The task force reports that in 2002, 31 percent of college students met the criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse, and 6 percent met the criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence.

“I don’t think drinking at BU is dramatically different than on any college campus,” says David McBride, director of Student Health Services. “From a recent survey by Healthy Minds 53 percent of BU students reported binge drinking, defined as more than four drinks for women and more than five drinks for men at one sitting, in the last two weeks. The national sample averaged 43 percent, so we are higher in this study. But that means that 47 percent of students don’t binge, and we have at least 10 percent of students who reported that they don’t drink at all.”

But McBride is worried about an increasing number of medical transports, and his concern is echoed by Elmore and Thomas Robbins, BU police chief. Police statistics show 149 transports in 2007, 152 in 2008, and 212 in 2009. So far this year, there have been 148 transports, lower than the same time last year.

“It’s very troubling,” says Robbins, who recently put more patrols on the streets from Thursday through Sunday nights in response to the rising numbers. “The root of it is binge drinking. The problem is there are attendant consequences: you become susceptible to crime and sexual assault, and other bad things can happen when you overindulge.”

Elmore agrees that too many students drink too much, but, he says, “Many, many more students are responsible.”

“That’s the conversation I would love to have with students,” says Elmore. “We have to talk about how we can have more responsible use of alcoholic beverages and how we can do a better job of looking out for each other. I just saw some of our students who returned from study abroad, and they were talking about how adult people in other countries were about the use of alcohol. That’s what we have to do.”

Like most of the students we talked to, film major Angel Rivera (COM’13), who does not drink, has seen both aspects of alcohol use by BU students: disturbing excess and pleasant evenings of “just chilling out.”

“When I lived in Towers, one of my floor mates would drink excessively every weekend and black out,” says Rivera. “He’d wake up the next day and say, ‘I have no idea what happened.’ We were good friends the beginning of my first semester in college and I remember one time we walked him to his job because he was drunk and out of it, and on the way we talked to him and said, ‘Dude you need to stop this.’ He didn’t really listen.”

This year, says Rivera, he has friends who drink responsibly and are fun to hang with. “They don’t go out looking to get girls drunk and party,” he says. “They just want to have a good time, just chill out.”

The one thing that everyone—students, administrators, and experts—agree on is that the college years, the years when boys and girls become men and women, should be a time when students learn to drink responsibly. The big question is how best to do that.

Next up: “Pressure to Drink from All Sides.”

Getting Help: Information about alcohol abuse treatment and support at Student Health Services can be found here. Learn more about alcohol and your health here. Resources and information about reporting sexual assault can be found here.

AlcoholScreening.org, a tool for confidentially assessing drinking and finding help, was developed by researchers at the BU School of Public Health.

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu. Nicolae Ciorogan can be reached at ciorogan@bu.edu.


22 Comments on Here’s Looking at You

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 6:43 am

    you walked him to his job?

    ” We were good friends the beginning of my first semester in college and I remember one time we walked him to his job because he was drunk and out of it” why on earth would you walk him drunk to his job?!?

  • Fed up on 10.18.2010 at 8:46 am

    "Not drinking enough?"

    Who said they knew someone who wasn’t drinking enough? That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! Instead, props to the person who has the self-confidence and doesn’t need to drink to have a good time.

    Also to say drinking is not a problem is to forget the hundreds of students who have gone to the hospital because of drinking related incidents.

    What’s more, 4 years ago, 2 students died and one was permanently injured on Ashford Street from a drinking related house fire. We don’t have a drinking problem? Open your eyes.

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 11:04 am

    “What’s more, 4 years ago, 2 students died and one was permanently injured on Ashford Street from a drinking related house fire.”

    Exactly, 4 years ago. Let’s be honest, all colleges and universities have students enrolled who do not know how to drink responsibly.

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 11:44 am

    hospital visits

    If it were legal for 18 year olds to drink and club so long as they maintain high grades, you would see an increase in gpas and a decrease in hospital transports… its basic economics, people

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 12:11 pm

    Its college now – get some responsibility and grow up. Its just stupid when you drink so much you blackout. How dumb can you be?

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 12:18 pm

    As a resident of Ashford Street, I think the main problem students have with drinking is this new concept of pregaming. Kids drink a whole bottle of alcohol in their dorm rooms because their next step is to wander around Ashford, Gardener, or Linden looking for a party. They aren’t sure if they will be able to consume any more for the rest of the night so they have to get as wasted as possible before heading out. This is why so many students get blackout and have to be taken to the hospital, they are consuming large amounts, and quickly (in order to get their night started and also to avoid being caught by an RA). Many times I haven’t felt safe walking to the convenience store my neighborhood because there are large groups of very intoxicated individuals standing around, either with nowhere to go or looking for trouble. If these students had a place where they could openly and moderately drink with friends, I guarantee you would see much fewer transports and much less arrests.

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 12:25 pm

    I think it's a stretch...

    I think it’s a stretch to say that all medical transports are solely the result of binge drinking. To understand the increase in medical transports, shouldn’t there be an examination into the school’s new medical amnesty policy? That’s something that has been talked about on campus for a long time, and could be an important factor.

    Within the last few years, there has been an increased awareness about medical amnesty, and that increases awareness about calling for help in general. I don’t think it’s right to imply that binge drinking is the sole cause of the increase in medical transports, because it doesn’t acknowledge the possibility that in 2007, more kids under severe effects of alcohol simply didn’t go to the hospital. Or, that in 2009, more kids understood the severity of alcohol poisoning, and the fear of their friend’s current state drove them to request medical assistance.

    Binge drinking is a dangerous activity, and students should recognize it as such. But, without an accurate picture of who DIDN’T call for a medical transport in the last three years, how is it possible to say that an increase in transports means an increase in binge drinking events among students?

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 12:44 pm

    I agree, however...

    I agree that there is a drinking problem on campus, but I think that BU could be doing a lot more to solve this. There is a huge lack of good marketing to get students to make better decisions and have other options. I know a lot of my friends and I would (and do when we find them) take advantage of some free or cheap BU events instead of going out every night of every weekend. For the price of admission it’s a little embarrassing how little BU does to promote other activities that could keep students a little farther away from the beer.

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 1:26 pm

    Look at any country with a low or no drinking age. Kids who grow up around alcohol almost always tend to be more responsible with it. They don’t see it as a “forbidden fruit” as EVERY young adult in the United States does. I hear this from international students all the time. They do not understand why American college students go so crazy with alcohol. It is because our laws discriminate against legal adults, making us either wait until we’re 21 or else risk trouble with the police. Drop the drinking age altogether and I bet we would see people start treating alcohol as an accompaniment to social gatherings rather than the primary focus.

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 1:29 pm

    I think the term “drinking problem” should be looked at a bit more carefully. It would be safe to say that most of us have done some foolish things while under the influence, and blacking out isn’t necessarily as horrendous or difficult as this article makes it out to be. Acting belligerent every once in a while when you’ve had too much to drink does not constitute a “drinking problem” by a long stretch.

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 1:30 pm

    Not be nit-picky, but Oktoberfest actually occurs in September. The last week of the festival is the first week of October, meaning that it has been over for a week. Sorry to kill your cultural reference!

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 2:23 pm

    Who's To Blame?

    Honestly, while drinking certainly happens at BU, there is no way it is a problem like it is at most other schools. The students are clearly to blame for drinking irresponsibly, but are there better strides that BU can take to deter students from binge drinking every weekend? Instead of throwing the BU Police all over town (where there happens to be plenty of other, more serious crimes occurring, just check your text messages) just to hand out fines to every apartment that makes noise, don’t you think we can focus on other ways to help kids be more responsible? It disappoints me how little say students have in planning and organizing on-campus activities throughout the year. BU Central has so much potential, but thanks to a small budget, they never seem to attract the numbers that they could every weekend. Students come to BU to learn and sometimes that means learning the hard way. If a student blacks out, there is probably a good chance that he or she will try to avoid doing it again. Rather than throwing out fines at houseparties, which probably won’t stop anyone from drinking, let’s make an effort to make it easier for students to organize on-campus concerts and events. I would bet that Relay for Life is the weekend night on campus when the least amount of drinking occurs because it has become a BU tradition where it is cool to participate. Lets do more of that and less targeting and judging.

  • Lee on 10.18.2010 at 2:29 pm


    I will never forget when several of my friends went out to a dance in one of their father’s car. They had all had alcohol before they got into the car and found a gun in the glove compartment (the dad was a traveling salesman). They were playing with it, the gun went off and one of the guys killed his best friend. Years of pain followed for 8 different families as well as so many of us that knew and were friends with all of them. Another very good friend became pregnant while intoxicated and had to quit school and raise a daughter at 18 (freshman year of college), and yet another was arrested twice when friends left him passed out at bars and on the sidewalk (respectively). He was suspended from college for a year, lost his license and has a permanent record and lost a full academic sc holarship, Think about it, __ IT HAPPENS. It is not worth it . . .

  • Anonymous on 10.18.2010 at 3:46 pm

    This is typical BU BS right here. I remember coming into BU, they fed us a bunch of horror stories about stupid kids getting too drunk and seriously hurting themselves or worse. But seriously, why is it BU’s responsibility to monitor all of our actions and spoon feed us our whole way through college? Another thing about school’s in different countries (where the legal drinking age is 18) is that students are treated much more like adults, and are much more independent. I don’t know if this is specific to BU schools, or all American schools, but I feel suffocated by BU’s tendency to baby it’s student body. Yes, there are students who drink in excess and make stupid decisions, but honestly, that’s students’ decisions, and they can choose to learn from them, or continue to be stupid about it. We are adults. Seriously BU, relax. This is almost as bad as their policy regarding marijuana. You’re really going to keep that on a student’s record for 7 years, even though it’s decriminalized in Mass? But, I digress…

  • Anonymous on 10.19.2010 at 7:06 am

    This is nit-picky and not the point but did one student use USC as an example of a rural school? Since when is Los Angeles a rural area?

  • Anonymous on 10.21.2010 at 8:34 am

    Freshmen are the only ones?

    I feel that this is a very bias video because there are only upperclassmen speakers and one of the girls repeats that freshmen are irresponsible drinkers. I’m not going to go on and say that they are the most responsible, but I have attended parties where it was the junior or senior who couldn’t handle his liquor! I live in the freshmen dorms and I have yet to have an encounter with an overly drunk freshmen!

  • Trigga Trev on 12.13.2010 at 6:04 am

    “It’s the month that first-year students begin to get their feet under them, and the month that many trip over those feet after being introduced to college drinking games like beer pong.”

    That’s Beirut, Sah! Beah Pahng is what they play in New York.

  • 'He's on Fire!' on 12.13.2010 at 6:06 am

    Good game, guys

    “It’s the month that first-year students begin to get their feet under them, and the month that many trip over those feet after being introduced to college drinking games like beer pong.”

    That’s Beirut, Sah! Beah Pahng is what they play in New York.

  • Anonymous on 06.13.2011 at 9:38 am


    I say act your age and people won’t have to spoon feed you crap to get you to listen.

  • Anonymous on 06.13.2011 at 10:29 am

    Is there a drinking problem? Yes, but this has been an issue for decades concerning underage alcohol consumption and to be quite frank I don’t see the problem being resolved anytime soon.

    College is when students are finally away from the pressures of their families and have found a new independence. They no longer have to worry about making their curfue our sneaking behind their parents’ backs to go out with their friends. Alcohol is a sense of liberation, and it will naturally be worse in the younger students because they are not accustomed to this lifestyle.

    We can say “let’s lower the drinking age!” but we all know it won’t be. We can all complain about the police fining every houseparty that makes noise, but we all forget there are non-college residents in Allston too. There is ALWAYS going to be a drinking problem, until kids finally learn how to enjoy alcohol responsibly as they get older. Even then we all know there are adults who consume too much at home, bars, or public events so this isn’t just a ‘University’ issue.

    Obviously, the effects are horrifying, but unfortunately that’s how you learn. The University can try all they can to stop this, but they will not be successful. This is a battle that will continuously be fought, and in the end it is something the student must personally overcome. If they accidentally drink too much it is ON THEM to stop. It is their own fault if they fail to learn from their mistakes.

    I say keep up with the videos, have students talk about themselves or people they know who have had bad experiences, and try to deter as many students as possible. Encourage events on campus, because that’s all you can do. This will always be a problem and we have to accept that some students WILL make bad choices.

  • Anonymous on 06.13.2011 at 12:22 pm

    It was kind of funny...

    It was kind of funny how they were filming people smoking in front of a sign that says no smoking…

  • rmt on 07.17.2011 at 7:15 am

    walk him drunk to his job?!?

    ” We were good friends the beginning of my first semester in college and I remember one time we walked him to his job because he was drunk and out of it” why on earth would you walk him drunk to his job?!?

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