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BU Joins Binge Drinking Study

Among 14 colleges sharing strategies for reducing problem

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BU is one of 14 institutions participating in Dartmouth’s Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking. Officials hope the study will help reduce binge drinking among college students nationwide.

Binge drinking remains a serious public health issue on college campuses across the country. According to a 2010 study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly four of five college students drink. In the same survey, two of five students reported binge drinking at some point in the previous two weeks.

And there are even more sobering statistics: nearly 2,000 college students age 18 to 24 die each year from alcohol-related injuries. Another 600,000 are unintentionally injured after drinking. Alcohol use has also been linked to sexual abuse, unsafe sex, and academic problems.

Up until now, academic institutions have largely been on their own in their struggle to find solutions to the problem. But a new collaboration sponsored by Dartmouth College and including 14 institutions—Boston University among them—will now share and test their various methods for reducing binge drinking.

“I really see dangerous drinking at BU as a huge health problem,” says Peter Fiedler (COM’77), vice president for administrative services, citing the nearly 300 alcohol-related trips to the emergency room by BU students this past academic year. “Those are the ones we know about. But there are many who don’t come back to campus or put themselves in dangerous situations and we don’t hear about them.”

Dartmouth’s president, Jim Yong Kim, invited BU President Robert A. Brown to participate in the college’s Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking. The first half of the three-year project will implement and test best practices to reduce binge drinking, and the second half will focus on refining those practices and measuring progress.

“We believe that by working together and learning from the best practices of one another, we are likely to achieve much more than if we continue to go it alone,” according to a statement released by Dartmouth’s National College Health Improvement Project, which administers the learning collaborative.

Participating colleges include a mix of private and public institutions at rural and urban sites, among them Duke University, Frostburg State University, in Maryland, the University of Wyoming, and Stanford.

The schools taking part in the collaborative will build teams of experts to tackle the issue. Comprising the BU team will be Fiedler, Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), David McBride, director of Student Health Services, Elizabeth Douglas, manager of the SHS Wellness and Prevention Services, Tibor Palfai, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of psychology and the department’s clinical program director, and Laura Collins, the manager of special projects in the Office of Institutional Research. Student leaders, still to be announced, will be chosen as well.

Douglas, who also cochairs BU’s Task Force on Alcohol and Student Health, says the collaborative will help the University improve its practices while giving staff access to a wide range of experts in the field.

Teams from the 14 institutions will meet three times in the first year and via monthly web conferences. The first gathering will take place June 29 to July 1 in Fairlee, Vt.

Schools pay $20,000 to participate in the project and have the option of requesting a refund if they do not agree with the by-laws established at the first meeting.

“It’s a commitment, but gives us a window out,” Fiedler says. “President Brown wants to make sure this is not a research project to benefit Dartmouth, but that it will benefit all universities involved.”

At BU, binge drinking has led to a rising number of student trips to the emergency room. The BU Police Department reports 284 alcohol-related medical transports this academic year, more than double last year’s number. The department also reports 39 alcohol-related arrests during the 2010–2011 academic year alone—a huge jump from the 8 reported in 2009. (The latter figure reflects the calendar, not academic, year.)

BU’s Task Force on Alcohol and Student Health already offers a series of options for students who want or need to address dangerous drinking habits, including one-on-one counseling, group therapy, an alcohol education class called CHOICES, and online assessments—like e-CHUG and BASICS—that provide students with feedback about their alcohol use and suggestions on how they can reduce risk.

Although Fiedler doesn’t see the Dartmouth collaboration as a quick fix to the college binge drinking problem, he thinks it could begin to lower the number of sexual assaults and physical injuries to students that are often tied to excessive drinking.

“If we can do something about that, I think we’re making some headway,” Fiedler says.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

3 Comments

3 Comments on BU Joins Binge Drinking Study

  • Anonymous on 05.26.2011 at 6:40 am

    Step One: Lower the drinking age to 18 (or lower);
    Step Two: Keep all undergrads housed on-campus;
    Step Three: Provide safe opportunities for responsible drinking monitored by people who care about students (not bar staff and liquor store owners.

    None of these are easy steps, but taken together, they could help change the atmosphere which leads to the binge drinking on campus.

  • Anonymous on 05.26.2011 at 10:15 am

    I Agree

    I agree with everything “Step One: Lower the” said. Lowering the drinking age would yield fewer cases of binge drinking on campus.

  • Anonymous on 05.31.2011 at 8:47 am

    lower drinking age

    I’m with the other commentators. When I was a student all drinking ages dropped to 18. We had keg parties on campus that were monitored by adults. I visited Dartmouth as an undergraduate. The fraternaties had big parties, people got drunk but….

    Yes, there were abusers but I never saw binge drinking like I hear being reported.

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