Thursday, July 02, 2009

Some Solutions to College Binge Drinking

July 2, 2009, 11:30 a.m.

More on Binge Drinking -- With Some Suggestions for Solutions
(brought to you by*)

On June 28 I posted here an entry headed "UI's AA: Alcohol and Athletics."

[Now, since writing today's entry, I discover we have one more example from last evening: "Former Hawekeye football player . . . arrested for public intox," The Gazette, July 2, 2009 ("[he] began swaying and staggering when he tried to stand or walk, a police complaint shows. [He] had slurred speech, bloodshot, watery eyes, and his breath smelled of alcohol, authorities said. The former place-kicker left the team in 2007 . . ..").]

In that June 28 entry I noted,
This is not a new subject for this blog. See, e.g., "Getting Real About Alcohol/Don't Get Tough, Get Effective," January 18, 2008; "Hawkeyes' Criminal Record Lengthens," February 25, 2008; "University of Iowa Sexual Assault Controversy -- 2007-08," August 9, 2008, et seq.; "Sexual Assaults, Athletics and the Academy," January 9, 2009; "How About Them Hawks -- Again," April 7, 2009; "Drunken Fights and Digital Photos/We're Going to Fight, Fight, Fight at Iowa!" April 13, 2009 (with links to 8 earlier blog entries).
And I bemoaned, "I've finally and reluctantly come to the conclusion that nothing effective will ever be done about . . . the consequences that flow from alcohol abuse by college students, athletes and non-athletes alike -- as well as non-college, and older, individuals.

Since then there have been four comments regarding that entry that have, among other things, brought to my attention some very specific things we could do in Iowa City. But first, some brief responses to the comments:

Anonymous John Neff said...


There were about 80 names on the football team roster but I think there may be other players that are not listed for various reasons. In any case the players listed are 0.4% of the UI undergraduate enrollment.

They were responsible for about five public intoxication arrests last year out of an estimated 506 public intoxications arrests of UI students per year (1% of the UI undergrad student arrests). The estimate is based on a 26 week sample of jail bookings. I do not think the difference between 0.4% and 1% is significant.

As we all know the UI administration does not like bad publicity but the majority of the students are 18 and older and are legal adults so unless they violate the code of student conduct or are arrested on campus the UI has to keep hands off. However it appears that drug offenses are different and if the student does not clean up their act they can be expelled. If an athlete violates team rules they can be kicked off the team but they can continue to be students if they so choose.

This is not a new problem the history of drunken brawls is at least 3,000 years old.
6/28/2009 09:44:00 PM
Neff is almost always well informed, and comes back with data as well as opinions, as in this case. However, here are some responses. (a) I would agree that there is probably a disproportionate attention paid to football players with regard to all they do -- including their arrests for alcohol-related offenses. So it may be trivial for me to note, but for 0.4% of the students (who are football players) to produce 1% of the student arrests is not, of course, a difference of 0.6%; it means they are being arrested at a rate 2-1/2 times that of the general student body. I think that is a "significant" difference. (b) I'm not so sure the University does have to "keep hands off" of offenses committed "off-campus." Some of the things other schools are doing are discussed below. (c) What is the relevance of the assertion that "the history of drunken brawls is at least 3,000 years old"? The history of murder, rape -- indeed most crimes -- not to mention war, are also "3,000 years old." We still make an effort to reduce their prevalence and impact.

Anonymous John Barleykorn said...

Just be glad we don't have European Soccer "Fans". Once you see that Nick, you wouldn't complain about a Saturday aftermath in University Heights again.
6/29/2009 10:13:00 AM
Agreed, but . . . isn't that kind of like telling the arresting officer, "Well, I may have been going 75 mph in a 60 mph zone, but there were two guys who just passed me who must have been going at least 85. Why didn't you arrest them?" The fact that it's worse elsewhere surely doesn't mean we shouldn't do all we can to reduce the damage here, does it?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the linkage between readily available cash and the increase in multiple occasions of binge drinking? Are student loans available in amounts significantly higher than actual costs (tuition, books, room/board) leaving excess money to spend on non-essential items for the educational process? If this is true, are we enabling the students to indulge in behavior that at one time would have been beyond what shold be their actual means? (I truly do not know the actual answer to this but have heard that it is possible to borrow in such a manner.)

At the risk of sounding trite, back when I was attending college, funds were available to pay for the essentials with a modest amount of money left over for entertainment on weekends, etc. Budgeting this money would not allow for multiple occasions of drinking but probably did allow for an occasional bout of overindulgence. With this in mind, are the economics at hand today for a college student the same as they were 25-30 years ago? If not why not? This is a time in life where sacrifices can be made to learn a pattern that can support yourself throughout your life.

Maybe its time to rein in the lending practices in this area as well so that students leave with a smaller debt load as well as a cleaner criminal record. You can't drink what you can't buy.
6/30/2009 04:32:00 PM
Interesting suggestion. At dinner last evening with some law grads studying for the bar exam I mentioned I'd once had a research assistant who would graduate with $150,000 in student loans to repay. Two of them said they would gladly exchange their debts for hers. This morning the New York Times reports a 47-year-old law grad with $400,000 in student loan debt. Jonathan D. Glater, "Finding Debt a Bigger Hurdle Than Bar Exam," New York Times, July 2, 2009, p. A1. Years ago I proposed a solution, which I repeated last December: "Today's Quick Fix: Controlling Tuition," December 11, 2008, a suggestion now embodied in a new program from the federal government, Jonathan D. Glater, "New Plan Ties Reduced College Loan Payments to Income," New York Times, June 30, 2009, p. A14.

Anonymous John Neff said...

There is a NYT editorial on binge drinking today 7/1/09 that is relevant.
7/01/2009 07:30:00 AM
But it is John Neff's putting me onto the Times' editorial that led to the Times' links to answers to the "where's the beef" legitimate complaints regarding my "we should do something about binge drinking" laments.

The editorial takes on those college presidents who recommended the "solution" last year of just lowering the drinking age to 18. It cites evidence that the problem lies on the college campuses -- and within the colleges power and responsibility to control -- not within the age group:

[T]he age-21 requirement has been generally effective in reducing binge drinking — except among college students. That was the conclusion of a study by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis . . ..

The study, based on information collected over a 27-year period by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that binge drinking by men between 18 and 20 years old who did not attend college dropped by more than 30 percent over that period but remained statistically unchanged among similar-aged men on campus. . . .

Students are less likely to live with parents or spouses who can ride herd on their drinking. Most have older friends who can legally buy alcohol. Fraternities and sororities may also foster irresponsible drinking. Whatever the causes, the solutions almost certainly lie mostly within the colleges . . . not by lowering the legal drinking age."
Editorial, "Binge Drinking on Campus," New York Times, July 1, 2009, p. A32. The story on which the editorial is based is Eric Nagourney, "Vital Signs - Patterns: Drinking Age Affects Bingeing, To a Point," New York Times, June 30, 2009, p. D6.

It's the additional links that add more. One describes the impact on a campus of a student death from alcohol. Dirk Johnson, "Rift on Indiana Campus After Student Dies," New York Times, November 28, 2008, p. A33. The story puts a human face on one of the 1825 such deaths in 2005.

But perhaps the most valuable, in terms of "best practices" for doing something constructive with the college student binge drinking problem, is found in a story from last fall Jane E. Brody, "Curbing Binge Drinking Takes Group Effort," New York Times, September 8, 2008. Here are some excerpts:
Every state has a minimum drinking age of 21, and the vast majority of college students are younger than that. Yet drinking, and in particular drinking to get drunk, remains a major health and social problem on campuses. . . .

College students spend about $5.5 billion a year on alcohol, more than they spend on books, soft drinks and other beverages combined. Alcohol is a factor in the deaths of about 1,700 college students each year.

The consequences can be particularly severe when people binge drink, a drinking pattern adopted by 44 percent of college students . . .. [Note: A study quoted in the June 28 blog entry reported the percentage at Iowa is 67 percent.]

A petition circulating among college presidents seeks to lower the drinking age to 18 . . . but opponents say there is no hard evidence for this belief and a better plan would be to change the drinking culture on campus.

About half of college binge drinkers arrive on campus having engaged in similar behavior in high school; an equal number acquire this behavior in college, Elissa R. Weitzman of Harvard and colleagues reported. . . .

In one study of students who suffered alcohol-related injuries, 21 percent reported consuming eight or more drinks in a row. . . . [S]tudent athletes and sports fans are . . . among the heaviest drinkers, often gathering to drink to oblivion . . ..

A Community Approach

. . . The Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, which began in 1993, has identified several environmental and community factors that encourage binge drinking. Dr. Wechsler, who directed the study, said in an interview that high-volume alcohol sales, for example, and promotions in bars around campuses encourage drinking to excess.

“Some sell alcohol in large containers, fishbowls and pitchers,” he said. “There are special promotions: women’s nights where the women can drink free; 25-cent beers; two drinks for the price of one; and gut-busters, where people can drink all they want for one price until they have to go to the bathroom. Sites with these kinds of promotions have more binge drinking.

“Price is an issue,” he added. “It can be cheaper to get drunk on the weekend than to go to a movie.” . . .

[E]ducation by itself doesn’t work,” Dr. Wechsler said. “You must attack the supply side as well as the demand side.” . . .

Strong Policies Work

Among the factors associated with lower levels of drinking were strong state and local drunken-driving policies aimed at youths and young adults, as well as state alcohol-control policies like keg registration and laws restricting happy hours, open containers in public, beer sold in pitchers and billboards and other types of alcohol advertising.

“College sports events should not be sponsored by alcohol purveyors,” Dr. Wechsler said.

Community measures that helped to curtail binge drinking during the eight-year course of the study included a limit on alcohol outlets near campus, mandatory training for beverage servers, a crackdown on unlicensed alcohol sales and greater monitoring of alcohol outlets to curtail under-age drinking and excessive consumption by legal drinkers.

Campus practices that resulted in small but significant reductions in binge drinking included greater supervision of fraternities and sororities and more stringent accreditation requirements for Greek houses, policies to notify parents when students have trouble with alcohol, an increase in substance-free residence halls and more alcohol-free activities like movies and dances, especially on weekend nights. . . .

What Parents Can Do

Dr. Wechsler urged that parents “put pressure on schools.” They should ask officials at the schools their children attend, or plan to attend, what they are doing to control drinking — especially binge drinking. When visiting schools, parents should check out the quality of life in the dorms. If they detect problems suggestive of heavy drinking, like excessive noise or vomit in the bathrooms, “they should demand that these issues be addressed,” he said.

Of course, he added, “parents should talk to their kids about drinking. Parents shouldn’t think that if it’s a beer and not a drug it’s of no consequence. Beer kills more people than drugs.”

Parents might also make it clear to students that they are expected to perform admirably outside the classroom as well as within it. Studies have shown that there is less drinking by students concerned about their grades, but also by those involved in volunteer work and other activities on and off campus.
So it turns out Iowa City's binge drinking problem really is both the creation and the responsibility of the University of Iowa -- although it also needs the support of the broader community. Binge drinking was not caused by the 21-only Iowa (and national) law, and it cannot be solved by lowering the age to 18.

As I have argued over the years, a little research on the Internet should provide far more solutions than we've ever tried. Now, thanks to John Neff and Jane Brody, I can pass along a few myself, rather than just suggesting others go do the research -- though they are, of course, only the beginning, not the end, of the list of possible approaches used by others.

If we have not made significant strides in resolving the problem -- and we have not -- it turns out that is not because there are no potential solutions available. Since that's not the reason, I will leave it to others to speculate as to what the reasons may be.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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John Neff said...

The reasons I don't think the difference is significant is there are more than 80 football players and the number of football players arrested for public intoxication varies from year to year with some years when there are no arrests.

John Neff said...


Today 7/9/09 there were six letters to the NYT editor in response to the binge drinking editorial.

Unknown said...

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