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today's word on

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Those were the days:

"The way I had it is all gone now. The bars are
gone, the drinkers, gone. There remain the smartest, healthiest newspeople in the history of the business. And they are so boring that they kill the business right in front of you."

--Jimmy Breslin, newspaper columnist, 1996 (Thanks to alert WORDster Jim Doyle)


Binge drinking less a problem at USU than other schools, but the numbers still are startling

By Nick Robbins

January 26, 2005 | By the time 19-year-old Samantha Spady went to sleep in an unused storage room in the University of Colorado's Sigma Phi fraternity house, she had been drinking, heavily, for more than 11 hours. Sam had over 40 drinks of beer, tequila shots, and vanilla vodka.

Hours later, the former homecoming queen, senior class president, and head cheerleader was found dead. Sam died from alcohol poising. Since Sam's death, the University of Colorado has had four other alcohol related deaths this semester, and they're not alone. Oklahoma University, the University of Arkansas, Washington and Lee University have all had similar experiences, and the list goes on and on. And while Utah State University hasn't had any alcohol related deaths this year, we're not immune from the problems of alcohol abuse.

It's been a common perception that members of college fraternities and sororities drink higher amounts of alcohol than their non-Greek college counterparts. Many studies, including one done by the Harvard School of Public Health are conforming this. The Harvard study looked at the effects binge drinking has on college students, particularly fraternities and sororities. The study showed that students who participated in binge drinking were more likely to take part in high-risk activities including, unsafe sex, violence and drug use. A December 2004 report by ABC News reported that college drinking lead to 500,000 injuries, 70,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape, and an estimated 1,400 student deaths according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Former Surgeon General Janet Reno called binge drinking "the most serious public health problem on American campuses today."

While binge drinking has been on the radars of college authorities for quite some time, not until Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) freshman, Scott Krueger died in 1997 from acute alcohol poisoning did it take a top priority. Kruger's blood-alcohol level measured at five times above the standard in Massachusetts of 0.8. Kruger had been at a party where his fraternity brothers told authorities that he had several drinks in a short period of time. Binge drinking.

According to his article, Alcohol and the American College Campus, Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health defined binge drinking as "five or more drinks in a row one or more times during a two-week period for men, and four or more drinks in a row one or more times during a two-week period for women. A drink is defined as a 12-ounce can or bottle of beer, a four-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce bottle or can of wine cooler, or a shot of liquor taken straight or in a mixed drink."

And not unlike their reputation, Wechsler found that membership in a Greek organization or living in a fraternity or sorority house was the strongest factor of binge drinking. The study showed that fraternity and sorority members were 76-78 percent more likely to binge drink than non-Greek students. Many Greek members see it as a rite of passage.

Wechsler has developed a 12-step program for institutions to begin addressing the problem of drinking on their campuses. While he does not claim it will cure all effects of alcohol, he recommends it as a start.

1. Assess the ways in which alcohol is affecting your college.
2. Admit that your college has an alcohol problem.
3. A systematic effort begins with the president.
4. Plan for a long-term effort.
5. Involve everyone in the solution.
6. Involve the local community in your efforts.
7. Establish the rights of non-binging students.
8. Target disruptive behavior for disciplinary action.
9. Address problem drinking at fraternities and sororities.
10. Provide a full-time education for a full-time tuition.
11. Encourage problem drinkers to seek help or treatment.
12. Freshman orientation should start long before students arrive on campus.

Utah State University Wellness Center prevention specialist Jana Carling said binge drinking is a small problem on our campus compared with other universities, but the problem does still exist.

"About 15 percent of the student body drink, but almost half of those binge drink," Carling said. "Once you put it into numbers, it's several thousand students."

According to a Utah Statesman article by Bart McKinnon, Utah ranked 39 in the nation for the number of people who drink. But 16 for the amount of alcohol consumed. Though this number is not college specific, the problem is found on campuses.

In 2003, the university police reported 33 alcohol related offenses on campus. Alcohol related problems made up over 25 percent of the campus' arrests.

Carling says several factors can contribute to drinking, and especially binge drinking. She says many students are away from home for the first time and don't have their parents' rules to follow. "They don't know what to do with their freedom," she said.

Carling also suggests that students think because this is their college years, they need to live it up.

Utah State University does not allow alcohol on school property, or at university related activities, making it one of several college campuses adopting a "dry campus" policy. Oklahoma University adopted a similar policy earlier this month after the death of freshman Blake Adam Hammontree at a fraternity house. OU President David Boren told the Oklahoma Daily, "One of the most painful experiences of my life was to sit down with the parents and the sister of a very fine young man who tragically died on our campus. I hope that I never again have that experience. . . . These are tragedies we must find a way to prevent." The University of Colorado is looking into creating simular policies since the four alcohol related deaths on their campus this year.

In addition to creating no alcohol legislation, many universities offer educational courses to teach students about the effects of alcohol. Utah State University students can learn more about the effects of alcohol abuse at the Student Health and Wellness Center where a free drug and alcohol educational class is taught by peers and professionals. Carlings says many students at Utah State University were not raised in an environment where they could see how to drink alcohol responsibly, and therefore are more prone to abuse it.

Carling also pointed out scientific research that gives possible insight as to why college students use alcohol inappropriately. "The brain isn't fully developed until about 24," she said. "The frontal cortex is the last to develop. It controls logic, decision making, and choices." Carling says that while students can still make sound judgments, it is difficult for them to see the long -term consequences. Some students are unable to see that if they get drunk the night before a study session or a test, they won't be able to function as well. "This is where it starts interfering with school," Carling said.

In addition to the Student Health and Wellness Center on campus, help is offered at the Bear River Health Department Division of Substance Abuse, and Logan Regional Hospital Dayspring and the USU Counseling Center for anyone struggling with substance abuse problems. Fees are minimal if at all. Insurance is accepted, and payment plans can be arranged.


Copyright 1997-2004 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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