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Study Shows College Environment Contributes to Binge Drinking

(Taken from CADCA’s Coalitions Online)

Binge drinking among U.S. college students is linked to conditions in the college environment, such as a strong drinking culture and few alcohol control policies. That´s one of the key findings from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study (CAS), a landmark study that surveyed more than 50,000 students at 120 colleges from 1993 to 2001.

In a new review that examines the findings from the CAS and their implications, the researchers conclude that heavy drinking behavior of students was more common in college environments that have a strong drinking culture, few alcohol control policies on campus or in the surrounding community, weak enforcement of existing policies, and alcohol made easily accessible through low prices, heavy marketing and special promotions. The review appears in the July 2008 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

“Binge drinking among college students varies widely from college to college,” said Henry Nelson, a lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the CAS reviewers. “At some colleges almost no students binge drink, while at others nearly four in every five students do. Interestingly, we found that the levels of binge drinking, and the problems related to it, remain very stable at the same colleges over time.” This finding occurred despite surveying a new group of students in each of the CAS surveys. “That suggests there is something about certain college environments that promote binge drinking,” added Nelson.

While some students chose to enroll in a college because it has a party reputation, CAS research found that campuses that emphasize intercollegiate athletics and fraternity and sorority life have higher levels of binge drinking. Students who lived off-campus with friends or in other unsupervised settings were also more likely to binge drink.

On the other hand, colleges that restricted use by banning alcohol on campus or offering substance-free housing options had fewer drinkers, and as a result lower binge drinking levels. State and local government can also play a role. Students who attended colleges in states with stronger alcohol control policies were less likely to be binge drinkers.

Researchers noted that the community around the university also has a significant impact on the level of binge drinking. “A ‘wet’ college environment, one that has many stores where students can buy alcohol, and may be influenced to do so by heavy marketing, low prices and special promotions, creates the conditions for heavy drinking,” said Wechsler. “If colleges can change those conditions, they can reduce binge drinking among their students.”

“What We Have Learned From the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study: Focusing Attention on College Student Alcohol Consumption and the Environmental Conditions That Promote It” was funded by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. More on the CAS research is available at: www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/.

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