Here’s Looking at You
Alcohol on campus: nearly everybody drinks, so what’s the problem?
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.22 Comments