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Binge drinking is dangerous, but still popular

POTENT POTABLES: Some research indicates that lowering the drinking age to 18 could cost lives, though many college presidents support that change. Photo by Chelsea Matiash // Hurricane Staff.

It’s hard to predict who you’ll meet in college, but there is one thing you can predict: 40 to 80 percent of them will be binge drinkers, said Toben F. Nelson of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study of college students, a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

If an individual’s blood alcohol concentration reaches .08 percent, which requires an average male to drink five alcoholic beverages in a row, he or she is considered to be binge drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 

“Rethink the drinking age,” reads the Web site for the Amethyst Initiative, a movement led by university presidents to stir up debate about America’s current 21-year-old drinking age, which according  to the site, “has created a culture of dangerous binge drinking on their campuses.”  

But epidemiological evidence proves them wrong, said Nelson, who has surveyed 50,000 college students nationwide since 1993 and studied university administrations and drinking law enforcement levels where the schools are located. 

“Frankly, we’ve done this experiment already and we know what will happen,” Nelson said. “If the drinking age is lowered to 18, we will wind up with more drinking, more alcohol-related problems and more deaths.” 

“It would free up the industry to market to a group of adolescents,” Nelson said. “You’ll have 15 to17-year-olds with increased access to alcohol, and the only people [who will benefit]from this are the alcohol companies who will sell more.” 

Although the Amethyst Initiative suggests that strict drinking laws encourage binge drinking, some research proves the opposite is true.  

“We found that the more enforcement there is and the tighter laws and restrictions are, the less likely students are to binge drink,” Nelson said.  

Communities with enforced, targeted underage drinking laws, such as the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, are effective in preventing binge drinking, studies show. 

Schools with easy access to alcohol have higher rates of binge drinking.  

“When you’ve got a saturation of alcohol outlets, those businesses have to compete with each other on price or high volume,” Nelson said. “So they wind up selling cheap, high-volume alcohol which is a key contributor to promoting heavy drinking in these college settings.” 

In addition, off-campus alcoholics influenced binge drinking on campus.  

“We found that a student who goes to school in a state with fewer adult binge drinkers is less likely to be a binge drinker,” said Nelson.

A key reason behind college binge drinking is social anxiety and insecurity in an unfamiliar college setting, which Nelson adds, would afflict college students regardless of the drinking age, because alcohol is a “social facilitator,” helping students overcome social fears.

“When these students go to a college situation where they may not know anyone, they have to give up the affiliations and community activities [that they were accustomed to at home], that have served them well for many years, and enter a setting where they need to quickly establish a brand new set of social relationships,” Nelson said.

Binge drinking is common in college students throughout the world, even in nations with an 18-year-old drinking age. 

The Swiss government has just launched a campaign to stop binge drinking and alcohol addiction, aiming to reduce the number of teenage binge drinkers by 10 percent within the next four years, reported Swissinfo, an enterprise of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, on June 18. 

Britain is considering raising their drinking age from 18 to 21, said the BBC in April 2007, adding that columnist Jasper Gerard believes that Britain’s current regulations are “failing to tackle the growing trend of underage and binge drinking.”  

“The bottom line is college students drink a lot,” Nelson said. “But lowering the drinking age to 18 will definitely not help this problem.”

Did you know?

  • The U.S. has tried an 18-year-old drinking age.  
  • In the late 1960s and 1970s, America did experiment with lowering the drinking age to 18. 
  • The  Vietnam War caused many states to lower the drinking age to 18, since many American soldiers were young men.
  • During those years, alcohol-related traffic fatalities, especially among young drivers, skyrocketed, according to About.com.   
  • In 1984, due to a high increase of traffic-related deaths, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was enacted, raising the legal drinking age to 21.  
  • Since then, an estimated 25,000 lives have been saved, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving findings.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that raising the drinking age to 21 has reduced traffic fatalities involving 18- to 20-year-old drivers by 13 percent.
September 4, 2008

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Chelsea Kate Isaacs


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