Study shows parents fret over binge drinking; colleges say they should

Posted: Sunday, September 02, 2001

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The bars line each side of Louisiana State University's campus, offering free shots and other drink specials. So many choices, but Rebekah Monson knows the secret -- drink fast and move on.

As college students head back to school, an American Medical Association survey released Wednesday shows binge drinking is among their parents' top concerns: 95 percent said excessive drinking is a serious threat to their children and 85 percent said easy access to alcohol in college communities contributes to the problem.

''We can no longer treat binge drinking as a rite of passage. It's a major health threat not only to binge drinkers but also to the people around them,'' said Dr. J. Edward Hill, AMA's chair-elect.

Binge drinking often is described as four drinks within an hour for a female or five drinks in an hour for a male. An estimated 44 percent of college students admit to binge drinking, and nearly one-fourth of those binge frequently.

''Four drinks in an hour? That's when I'm taking my time,'' said Monson, a 20-year-old junior at LSU. ''That is a lot, but that's pretty average for a lot of college students. When I go to bars, I don't see people nursing beers. I see people throwing back shots and chasing it with beers.''

Monson hopes to develop responsible drinking habits, but she said that's pretty tough to do as a college student. ''One of my friends was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, and she still goes out and throws them back with the best of us,'' Monson said.

College students don't seem dissuaded by drinking-related deaths, including several fatalities during the last school year.

A University of Michigan student celebrating his 21st birthday died after downing his 20th shot in 10 minutes. An Old Dominion University student choked to death on his own vomit during a pledge-week drinking binge. A Colgate University student is facing four years in prison after crashing into a tree during a night of drinking, killing four students.

''Most students get here and think, 'Oh, it's freedom. I can do whatever I want without mom and dad finding out,''' said Kelly Hill, a junior at Michigan. ''A lot of them don't know what their limits are.''

LSU is the nation's No. 2 party school behind the University of Tennessee, according to an annual list released last week by The Princeton Review. School officials hope to rid themselves of the image, particularly after the August 1997 death of a freshman who celebrated his acceptance into a fraternity with a night of drinking.

The stereotype is hard to shake because Louisiana fosters its fun-loving image to attract tourists. The state's legal drinking age was raised from 18 to 21 only in 1995 -- a law the Louisiana Supreme Court declared unconstitutional before it reversed itself.

Tailgating before LSU football games, Mardi Gras parades and crawfish boils typically involve beer. When the drinking age was 18 only a few years ago, students remember professors holding class in bars.

''I think it has a lot to do with the culture we live in here in south Louisiana,'' said Chris Eldredge, a 21-year-old LSU senior. ''I drink regularly, but I guess I take pride in the fact that I know my limits and I know when to stop.''

LSU is among 10 colleges nationwide participating in a $17.5 million AMA-led initiative to curb binge drinking that started in 1996 with The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Efforts include eliminating alcohol-industry sponsorships of athletics, mandating parental notification if underage students are caught with alcohol, increasing alcohol-free social events on campus and encouraging tavern owners to eliminate drink specials geared toward students.

At the University of Colorado, a ban on alcohol sales at football games is credited for a 52 percent reduction in the number of fans kicked out of the stadium and a 70 percent decline in arrests.

At LSU, officials search bags at the entrances to Tiger Stadium and only allow people to bring inside sealed water bottles. The University of Rhode Island banned alcohol from this year's homecoming football game.

The AMA telephone survey of 801 people 21 and older included 342 parents of college or college-bound high school students, a random sample considered nationally representative. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the new basketball-hockey stadium won't be selling beer, an estimated loss of $500,000 during hockey season alone. Chancellor John Wiley said several tavern owners near campus have cut down on drink specials.

Two students died at the university in alcohol-related falls last year and 40 others received emergency-room treatment for severe drunkenness.

Wiley said while most parents are concerned about their students' drinking, some contribute to the problem.

''We've had to confiscate cases of beer that parents were bringing into the dorms,'' he said, noting a case Wednesday where parents were found drinking in their child's dorm room.

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