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Alcohol Remains a Problem on College Campuses

American colleges and universities are widely respected for their ability to introduce legions of students to the world of academia – but students’ behavior outside the classroom continues to cause concern among health care experts.

Several studies and research projects have documented the degree to which the misuse and abuse of alcohol remains a significant problem on college campuses throughout the nation. For example, an academic paper in the 2005 edition of the Annual Review of Public Health reported that alcohol-related unintentional fatal injuries among students age 18 to 24 increased by 200 per year (from 1,500 to 1,700) between 1998 and 2003. During that same three-year period, the number of university students who drove a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol increased from 2.3 million per year to 2.8 million, the same paper reported.

“This paper underscores what we had learned from another recent study – that excessive alcohol use by college-aged individuals in the U.S. is a significant source of harm,” Dr. Ting-Kai Li, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), said in a release that announced the publication of the paper. The NIAAA is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

According to information posted on College Drinking – Changing the Culture – an NIAAA-sponsored website that is dedicated to raising awareness about the prevalence of drinking on college campuses – alcohol continues to exert a decidedly negative effect on colleges and students:

  • Death: 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes
  • Injury: 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.
  • Assault: More than 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted every year by another student who has been drinking.
  • Sexual Abuse: More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or rape every year.
  • Unsafe Sex: 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 had unprotected sex, and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.
  • Academic Problems: About 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.
  • Health Problems/Suicide Attempts: More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem, and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year because of their use of alcohol or other drugs.
  • Alcohol Abuse and Dependence: 31 percent of college students met criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse, and six percent for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence, in the past 12 months, according to questionnaire-based self-reports.

“The magnitude of problems posed by excessive drinking among college students should stimulate both improved measurement of these problems and efforts to reduce them,” Dr. Ralph W. Hingson, the lead author of the Annual Review of Public Health article, said in the same release in which Dr. Li was quoted.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has reported that almost 50 percent of college students who were surveyed reported having engaged in binge drinking within the previous two weeks. (Binge drinking is defined as having consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in one session.) Among fraternity and sorority members, the binge drinking rates rose above 80 percent.

“It’s a very serious problem on college campuses, and it just seems to get worse and worse,” William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, told writer Justin Ewers in an article that appeared in the Aug. 25, 2008, edition of US News & World Report.

As the College Drug Abuse website indicates, the abuse of alcohol and other drugs by college students can inflict widespread damage:

Alcohol and drug use combined can lead to some dangerous situations among college students, namely date rape and overdose, which can be fatal. Vandalism and violence are also concerns on college campuses where drug and alcohol abuse is present.

Drug and alcohol abuse is not just a problem for the students who abuse these substances. The parents, teachers, roommates, and friends of abusing students are also affected. Roommates may suffer the consequences of having to take care of a sick suitemate, parents may be concerned about their child’s growing isolation, and teachers may see slipping grades or have to deal with students sleeping in class.

To combat this continuing problem, many experts advocate on behalf of the following measures: increased enforcement of 21-and-over laws, enhanced efforts to educate students about the risks of alcohol abuse, the development of more effective intervention programs to ensure that alcohol-dependent students have access to the treatment they need, and the creation of better university-wide strategies for counteracting the “culture of consumption” that exists on many campuses today.

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