EDITORIALS

Binge drinking 101

Posted Aug. 24, 2011, at 4:13 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 24, 2011, at 5:26 p.m.

Another college year is starting, and binge drinking is again a prime concern among deans of students around the country. Sad to say, it also remains an attractive matter of interest for many of the students.

The University of Maine and Colby, Bates and Bowdoin colleges all have active campaigns to dissuade students from this dangerous form of drinking.

Binge drinking, usually defined as five 1½-ounce shots of hard liquor for a man or four shots for a woman, can lead to academic failure, automobile crashes, hospitalization for alcoholism, sexual violence and even death. Unfortunately, students sometimes see it as an integral part of the college experience; a release of their own inhibitions and those of the opposite sex.

For deans and other university and college leaders, dealing with the matter involves warnings and training, in groups and one-on-one and, when necessary, punishment or even expulsion. Female students are urged to report any assault that may have occurred because of another student’s drinking, but may hesitate if they have been drinking heavily, too.

The president of Dartmouth College, Jim Yong Kim, has recruited 32 colleges and universities to form a learning collaborative on high-risk drinking. No Maine institution is taking part.

The Dartmouth-led group’s first meeting, in July, focused on the “individual drinker.” Future meetings will consider where drinking takes place and how to combat binge drinking.

Maine institutions are dealing with binge drinking on their own. The University of Maine in Orono’s immediate focus is on the incoming 1,500 first-year students. They will live separately from upperclass students and will get special training in groups and one-to-one sessions about effects on the body and other negative consequences.

Lauri Sidelko, director of alcohol and drug prevention programs, said she and other staffers ask more advanced students to recount a most memorable drinking experience, which is always negative. They also may demonstrate the amount of liquor in a serving by pouring it into a measuring cup. Ms. Sidelko told of measuring the hard-liquor content of a spiked bottle such as 32-ounce water bottles from which many students keep sipping. It can be as much as 8-10 ounces. Students may be surprised at how much beer they have consumed in a game of beer pong.

Campus police are called when necessary. A citation can lead to a course in the alcohol education program, a $50 fine or restitution in case of vandalism. Expulsion can be the last resort.

Success of such programs is hard to measure. Toben Nelson, a professor at the University of Minnesota Public Health and a specialist in the field said the problem remains about the same. He added that new dangers are student use of prescription drugs and caffeinated “energy” drinks in combination with alcohol.

The standard measure of admitted binge drinking remains about steady at 40 percent. That represents too many students putting themselves in high risk situations.

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