Susan Murphy, Ph.D.
WHEN STUDENTS DIE FROM ALCOHOL, WHO IS TO BLAME?
BATTLE OF THE BINGE: A FATAL NIGHT OF BOOZING AT…
Headlines such as these are a college administrator's worst fear. Despite the
fact that college drinking is down from a decade ago (Presley, et al., 1996),
all of the major studies on college students' drinking habits show that binge
drinking is still a serious problem. At least 40% of college students are reported
as binge drinkers, consuming at least 5 drinks in a single sitting some time
during the past two weeks (Wechsler, 1995; Presley and Meilman, 1992; Meilman,
1999). And while half of the binge drinkers in college had already binged when
they were seniors in high school (Wechsler, 1995), the environment of a college
is known to be associated with the prevalence of binge drinkers.
The problem is a serious one. In a 1989 study sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation,
college presidents nationwide viewed alcohol abuse as their number one campus
life problem (Cited in Wechsler, 1995). The problem is no longer confined just
to those who abuse alcohol themselves and the problems they may face, like unplanned
and unsafe sexual activity, injuries, crime, poor academic performance, etc.
Now the concern extends to the well-documented secondhand effects—assault,
damaged property, interrupted studying, etc.—which touch the lives of
most every student.
And if the interest in creating a campus environment conducive to learning
and growth were not enough of a motivator for a college executive to take action,
the laws now require it. Starting with the basic requisites outlined in the
Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and its amendments of 1989, institutions
that receive any Federal funds must meet several requirements. Among them are
the adoption of an alcohol and other drug program, and definition of a policy
that prohibits the unlawful possession, use and distribution of illicit drugs.
(Epstein, 1998b) So whether moral or intellectual leadership or legal requirement
is the motivator is immaterial. Simply put, action is required.
What is it that university administrators must do? They must define and articulate
the institution's culture, values and philosophy. They must develop and enforce
clearly articulated policies relating to alcohol use and abuse. They must take
specific action based upon those policies, in areas such as the allocation of
resources, program design and delivery, and coalition building. And they must
act on their basic mission as an educational institution by building and using
an institutional research agenda. While all of these steps cannot guarantee
that such headlines will not appear for a given school, they can help create
a supportive and healthy campus environment and culture.
Back to Table of Contents
Last reviewed: 9/23/2005