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Alcohol and Other Drugs

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, August 28, 2015

In this week’s roundup: double standards for sexual activity may begin as early as middle school, the University of Michigan tries out a new policy to discourage underage drinking, and a new study reveals that students are most likely to try certain drugs at specific times during the year.

Double Standard for Early Adolescent Sexual Activity

A team of sociologists and researches has released a new study showing that adolescent girls and boys – as early as the 6th grade – experience the social impacts of sexual activity differently.  “In our sample of early adolescents, girls’ friendship networks shrink significantly after they have sex, whereas boys’ friendship networks expand significantly,” said Derek A. Kreager, the lead researcher and a faculty member at Pennsylvania State University. The study found that early adolescent girls gain friends for making out without having sex, whereas boys of the same age lose friends for making out without having sex, enforcing a double standard about sexual freedom and promiscuity at a very early age. The researchers posit that early social norming around gender and sexual activity will have a lasting impact on “later sexual adjustment.” The paper, “The Double Standard at Sexual Debut: Gender, Sexual Behavior and Early Adolescent Peer Acceptance,” was presented Tuesday at the American Sociological Association’s 110th Annual Meeting.

University of Michigan Notifies Parents About Conduct Violations 

The University of Michigan announced that they will be going an unconventional route to discourage underage drinking this year. When students repeatedly violate alcohol and other drug (AOTD) policies, their parents will be notified of their behavior.  This is legal under FERPA Section 952, which allows – but not requires – schools to contact parents if their child is under 21 and committing AOTD violations. “We will notify parents of first-year students when a student under the age of 21 has had a second alcohol or drug violation or when a first-year student has committed a violation accompanied by other serious behavior such as needing medical attention, significant property damage or driving under the influence,” E. Royster Harper, Michigan’s Vice President for Student Life, wrote in a campus-wide email. This initiative is being promoted as a harm-reduction strategy for student safety.  Official communication from the University has not addressed any potential concerns, discrepancies, or downfalls to this policy. However, commentors on the article have brought up that AOTD legal violations seem to be taken seriously for a school who is under Title IX investigation for its mishandling of a sexual assault committed by a star athlete.

Study finds students start taking painkillers in winter, start drinking alcohol and smoking pot in the summer

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released a new study on Thursday that looks at the months when college students are most likely to experiment with new drugs. The study is the first of its kind, breaking down first time use by month for various substances, including alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, “study drugs,” prescription painkillers, and cocaine. First time use of alcohol, for instance, peaks in June, July, September, and December, according to the report. Similarly, college students tend to use marijuana for the first time in June and July. First time non-medical use of prescription painkillers, on the other hand, peaks in December. The study is based on data collected between 2002 and 2013 from The National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The information can help administrators target monthly programming to address the substances students are most likely to experiment with. Read the full study.

 

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, May 15, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have the results of three new studies of the causes, prevalence, and consequences of binge drinking.

Brain Protein Appears to Block Binge Drinking

A brain protein called GIRK3 (a member of the “G protein-gated inwardly rectifying potassium channel” (GIRK) family) may play an important role in moderating binge drinking in mice, according to researchers from The Scripps Research Institute. Based on evidence that the GIRK family can be directly activated by alcohol and the knowledge that the specific protein in question, GIRK3, modulates the effect of drugs such as GHB and cocaine, researchers removed GIRK3 in lab mice then exposed them to alcohol. They observed that the modified mice were more likely to drink to the point of intoxication when given access to ethanol for just two hours a day, a condition meant to mimic a human happy hour (or college party.) These results suggest one possible avenue for pharmaceutical research aimed at addressing binge drinking.

New Study Reveals where Binge Drinking is Most Prevalent

A new study published by the American Journal of Public Health reveals which American counties have the highest rates of binge drinking and heavy drinking amongst adults 21 and over. Heavy drinking, defined as more than two drinks a day for men and more than one a day for women, was most prevalent in Menominee County in Wisconsin, and least common in Madison County, Idaho. Binge  drinking, defined as more than 5 drinks for men and 4 for women in about 2 hours, was most common in Esmeralda County, Nevada, and least common in Hancock County, Tennessee, where just 2.4% of drinking-age adults partook in binge drinking. Overall, the areas with the highest rates of problem drinking and drinking in general were New England, the West coast, and northern parts of the West and Midwest. Click the link above to see maps of problem drinking by county.

Binge Drinking Permanently Damages Developing Brains

Finally, if anyone doubted the dangers binge drinking poses to college students, a new study confirms that the dangers of heavy drinking lie not just in reckless decisions and alcohol poisoning when a student is intoxicated, but also in damage done to the brain that will linger—permanently. Research conducted on lab rats suggests that binge drinking creates permanent, negative changes in the developing brain. Since brain development in humans continues into the mid-twenties, these findings have sobering implications for the consequences of college binge drinking. Rats given alcohol while still in rodent adolescence had impaired memory and learning ability.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 27, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have wearable technology that could make it easier for students to party smart and look out for one another, a profile of an activist who leveraged the Internet and social media to make campuses safer for women, and the creators of The Hunting Ground on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Party Smart Wearables

Could wearables (wearable technology a la Apple’s soon-to-be-released Apple Watch) help keep students safe (or at least safer) when they drink? A team of students from the University of Washington think the answer is yes, and to prove it they’ve conceived of a smart bracelet that could monitor BAC and dehydration when students go out. The Vive, which currently exists only as an idea, not a working prototype, would alert students to their level of intoxication, check in periodically to make sure students were in control, and alert friends when the wearer became too drunk to respond to those check-ins. There’s also a social element in the form of a feature that would allow Vive users to connect with each other by touching their bracelets. Whether the Vive comes to fruition or not, the concept is a useful example of the power of technology to enable students to party more carefully and to take care of their friends.

Using the Web and Social Media to Fight Sexual Assault

While the Vive is an example of a nascent idea for potential new technology , this profile of activist Wagatwe Wanjuki, published as part of MSNBC’s series for Women’s History Month, demonstrates the power of (relatively) familiar and established technologies: social media and the Internet. The profile and accompanying interview highlight Wanjuki’s use of social media and the web, starting with her anonymous blog which led to the creation and dissemination of an online petition that precipitated a Department of Education civil rights investigation of her alma mater, Tufts University. Wanjuki also created the nationally-trending hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege in response to columnist George Will’s unfortunate claim that surviving an assault granted “a coveted status that confers privileges.” In the piece, she talks about using the Internet to connect with other activists and victim/survivors and its power as “a great amplifier of the work.”

The Hunting Ground, Rape Myths, and the Daily Show

If you follow this blog you’ll already have heard quite a bit about The Hunting Ground, the new documentary that focuses on campus rape and the all-too-often inadequate response to it. This interview with the film’s director, Kirby Dick, and producer, Amy Zeiring, is well worth a watch not only for the insightful humor from host Jon Stewart but also for Zeiring’s succinct refutation of unfortunately prevalent and damaging myths about false rape reports.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, February 27, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have a story about college binge drinking and two editorials with ideas about how to solve this seemingly intractable problem.

Today’s Entering Freshmen Less Likely to Drink than Their Parents Were

So say the latest results of UCLA’s annual American Freshman Survey, which the university has conducted for almost 50 years. Of the incoming freshmen surveyed, just 33.5% said they drank beer, and 38.7% said they often drink wine or hard alcohol, down from 74.2% and 67.8% respectively in 1981. Similarly, the percentage of students who said they partied more than six hours a week fell from 34.5% in 1987 to 8.6% in 2014. Of course, these figures apply just to incoming college students, which is to say high school seniors. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points out that these students are still likely to experiment with alcohol once they arrive one campus, except without the drinking experience older generations had at the start of their college careers.

Lower the Drinking Age to 18

Drinking experience for new college students is exactly what Elizabeth Glass Geltman proposes as a solution to college binge drinking and the many health problems associated with it. In this Huffington Post editorial, Geltman argues that one way to handle the problem is to lower the legal drinking age to 18, the legal drinking age when she herself attended Dartmouth (which recently banned hard alcohol on campus). She contends that lowering the legal drinking age would take college drinking out of the shadows and give parents and universities the chance to legally mentor students in safe, responsible alcohol consumption, pointing to university-sponsored events that served alcohol as examples of how she learned to party smart.

Make Binge Drinking Uncool

A very different solution is proposed in this editorial from USA Today, which takes successful anti-tobacco campaigns as the model for anti-binge drinking efforts. According to USA Today’s editorial board, the best way to combat binge drinking is to replicate the success of anti-tobacco campaigns, which have managed to make smoking cigarettes socially taboo, with 88% of 19-22 year olds saying their friends would disapprove of a smoking habit. To replicate the same results with binge drinking the editorial advocates tougher enforcement of anti-drinking laws and policies, including more DUI checkpoints around campus and cracking down on the sale of alcohol to minors and underage drinking off campus, a strategy that produced positive results in a study of 14 large California public universities. According to the editorial such measures could cut down on the amount of drinking and begin the process of a cultural shift that would make excessive drinking as uncool as a pack a day.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 23, 2015

This week we have an editorial revealing that American universities are not the only ones with a sexual assault problem, and two new and potentially innovative tactics for addressing the issue in this country.

Britain Has a Problem with College Sexual Assault Too

If you thought campus sexual assault was a uniquely American problem, this editorial from British professor Nicole Westmarland makes it brutally clear that college campuses across the pond have just as much if not more of a problem with sexual violence. In fact, Professor Westmarland cites statistics even more shocking and perturbing than the ones familiar to us from American studies. According to a poll conducted by The Telegraph, 1 in 3 British female college students experience sexual assault. 97% of sexual assault victims do not report their assault to the university, and 44% said they did not report their assault because they believed the university would do nothing about the violence. Westmarland points to these statistics as an indictment of a higher education culture that she believes would prefer to sweep these problems under the rug rather than discuss and address them. Perhaps encouragingly (at least for Americans) she points to current efforts being taken to address sexual violence on this side of the Atlantic as a model for British universities looking to fight back against campus rape.

Could Sorority Ragers Help Fight Sexual Assault?

Alcohol-fueled fraternity parties have been the setting for numerous high-profile sexual assault cases. Alcohol-fueled sorority parties have not, probably because, by and large, such events do not exist. Now, some female students are wondering whether they should, suggesting not only that a party hosted by a sorority might not pose the same risks as one hosted by a fraternity, but that such events could decrease the overall danger of sexual assault on campus. The theory goes that drinking in a setting where women are in control—of who can and cannot be in their house, of the flow of alcohol, and of their own ability to go upstairs and lock the door at any time—would reverse a power dynamic that at fraternities contributes to the prevalence of sexual assault. Critics of this logic point out that sororities rarely host parties for good reasons, which include the cost of insurance and potential damage to property that generally belongs to a national organization. Furthermore, they suggest that providing yet another venue for excessive drinking may be exactly the wrong strategy for combating a problem closely linked to excessive alcohol consumption.

How Can Taxes and Marijuana Fight Sexual Assault?

Curbing excessive drinking is the heart of the tactic suggested by this piece from New York Magazine. However, author Annie Lowrey suggests a novel tool in the seemingly age-old (and often futile) efforts by schools and government to cut down on students’ drinking: taxation. According to Lawrey, “Study after study has shown that ‘higher prices or taxes were associated with a lower prevalence of youth drinking.’” She posits that increased taxation of alcohol, and especially of alcohol sold in close proximity to college campuses, will lead to decreased drinking and, as a result, a decrease in sexual assaults. The second, more controversial bonus suggestion? That legalizing marijuana could similarly decrease student drinking and thus assaults. According to Lowrey, “there is some evidence that young people tend to substitute pot for alcohol.” Drawing on evidence that cannabis use reduces the likelihood of violent behavior, while drinking increases it, Lowrey suggests that making marijuana more widely available could decrease the risk of assault on college campuses.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 16, 2015

This week’s roundup includes new PSAs against domestic violence, the disturbing results of a survey on sexual assault, and UVA’s new rules for fraternities and sororities.

The NFL and No More

If you’re a football fan there’s a good chance you’ve seen PSAs from the public awareness campaign No More. No More aims to raise awareness about and work against sexual violence, including both domestic violence and sexual assault. Now the campaign is reaching one of America’s biggest audiences with PSAs featuring NFL players, run during NFL games. The partnership arose out of the NFLs attempts to rehabilitate their image in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, an incident that called the league’s commitment to working against sexual violence into serious question. While most of the spots feature players reiterating the message of “no more,” as in “No more ‘we don’t talk about that’,” or “No more ‘boys will be boys’,” many feel that the most powerful of the No More PSAs is the “Speechless” series, unplanned pieces filmed as players prepared, and sometimes struggled, to talk about sexual violence.

Would 1/3 of College Men Commit Rape if They Could Get Away With It?

The alarming answer to that question is yes, according to a recently published survey. When asked if they would have “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse” if “nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences,” 32 percent of the study’s participants answered yes. When asked if they would have “any intentions to rape a woman” that number dropped to 13.6%, a result with the disturbing implication that many men do not consider “forcing a woman to sexual intercourse” to be a definition of rape. Perhaps unsurprisingly, willingness to commit rape, no matter how the crime was described, correlated with hostile attitudes towards woman and viewpoints that, according to the study, “objectify women and expect men to exhibit sexual dominance.”

UVA’s New Greek Policy

In the wake of the now-discredited Rolling Stone article that alleged a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, UVA has rolled out new rules for their Greek organizations aimed at curbing the threat of sexual assault. In an agreement fraternities and sororities must sign before resuming activities, the school lays out strict rules for drinking at Greek events. These rules include the requirement that beer must be served in closed containers and that hard alcohol can only be served if the organization hires a bartender. While some people have applauded the new focus on safety and preventing sexual assault, others argue that reducing drinking is the wrong approach. These critics argue that putting the focus on college drinking amounts to blaming victims of assault for the violence perpetuated against them.  Others question the efficacy of the new rules, pointing out that the legal drinking age of 21 is widely flouted on campus, and questioning whether the university will work to enforce the rules it is introducing. Two fraternities at UVA have already refused to sign the new agreement, arguing that it “may create new liability for individual members of our organizations that is more properly a duty to be borne by the university itself.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, December 19, 2014

These three stories examine why binge drinking remains a persistent issue on college campuses, and propose possible solutions to a thus far intractable problem.

The Long Story of Unsuccessful Efforts to Fight College Binge Drinking

According to this New York Times article, the history of modern efforts to curb college binge drinking can be traced back to the early 1990s when the College Alcohol Survey, run by Harvard social psychologist Henry Weschler, surveyed 17,000 students on their drinking habits. Weschler’s findings brought the term “binge drinking” into the public consciousness and precipitated a plethora of further research, college and government initiatives, and media coverage aimed at investigating and curbing excessive drinking amongst America’s college students. The human costs are staggering:  each year 1,800 students die from alcohol poisoning, 600,000 suffer alcohol-related injuries, 100,000 experience alcohol-influenced sexual assaults, and one in four say their academic performance suffered from drinking. In the two decades since, the college drinking rate has stayed steady, in spite of these consequences and the aforementioned efforts to keep students sober, or at least more sober. The article explores some of the reasons that the problem has proved intractable even in the face of enormous amounts of money, effort, and research, and why certain solutions known to work, such as partnerships with local alcohol-selling businesses and stepped up enforcement, have proven difficult to implement.

What Kind of Education Can Help Prevent Binge Drinking?

This Washington Post piece posits that education aimed at preventing binge-drinking, other forms of substance abuse, and even sexual assault could benefit from a shift in what we consider taboo in the classroom. Author Alyssa Rosenberg points to programs such as the demonstrably ineffective D.A.R.E. to suggest that simply teaching future college students to say “no,” whether to drinking, drug use, or even sex, is only half the battle. She suggests that, although such training might cause controversy, teaching students about to leave home for the greater freedoms of college how to safely drink and engage in sexual activity could be crucial to giving them a safe college experience.

Could School-Run Bars Help Prevent Binge Drinking?

Even more potentially controversial is this suggestion from The New Republic, which advocates a counter-intuitive solution to college binge drinking: Have colleges start selling the alcohol themselves to “afford the school enormous influence over how, when, and how much students [] drink.” Specifically, the piece recommends that colleges open bars on campus where students can drink (presumably) more safely than they would at off-campus house parties and bars. Author Naomi Shavin points out that this would give schools more control over and insight into students’ drinking habits while also keeping drinking closer to campus, cutting down on DUIs, and keeping inebriated students close to potentially life-saving emergency services.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, September 12, 2014

Substance abuse is a persistent problem on college campuses. What role does brain chemistry play in young people’s vulnerability to alcohol and other drugs? These two articles suggest some answers.

Brain Chemistry and the Low Price of Drinks Drive College Binge Drinking

What is it that drives some college students to drink to excess again and again and again? This piece from NPR explains that there are multiple factors driving college binge drinking. One is brain chemistry. College-aged brains are still developing, so while the part of the brain that seeks reward and stimulation is fully mature by the time 18 year olds begin their freshman year, the bits that control impulsive behavior still have a ways to go. This imbalance is what makes taking too many shots or playing drinking games seem so appealing. The other big factor may seem more obvious, but is also more controllable. The lower the average price of a drink in an area, the more binge drinking is reported amongst local college students.

Adolescent Marijuana Use Correlates to “All Adverse Young Adult Outcomes”

A new study from the British journal The Lancet Psychiatry suggests that teenaged marijuana use correlates strongly to a variety of alarming outcomes. Teen pot-smokers were 60% less likely than peers to graduate from high school, 60% less likely to finish college, seven times more likely to attempt suicide and eight times more likely to use other illegal drugs than their non-smoking counterparts. Significantly, the authors found that even “low levels” of marijuana use (as infrequently as once per month) greatly increased teens risks of the aforementioned negative outcomes when compared to teens who did not smoke marijuana at all, suggesting that “there may not be a threshold where [cannabis] use can be deemed safe” for adolescents. With the legal landscape shifting quickly on the issue of marijuana possession and use, it seems clear that any legislative reforms must take pains to keep cannabis out of the hands of teen users.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, July 11, 2014

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill’s report on college sexual assault, released earlier this week and based on the results of a survey of 440 schools and three roundtable discussions, concluded that most colleges and universities simply aren’t doing enough to prevent sexual assault on their campuses. With that in mind, we want to use this week’s roundup to bring you three stories of measures schools and lawmakers are taking to address the sexual assault crisis.

Can Banning Grain Alcohol Stop Campus Sexual Assault?

In Maryland, lawmakers are following the lead of neighboring states Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania by banning the sale of 190-proof grain alcohols. Supporters of the ban, a group that includes state legislators and local college administrators, describe such liquors, which include the popular Everclear, as “a different category of alcohol” and “the worst of the grain alcohol.”

(more…)

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Free Substance Abuse Prevention Posters
Posted by On Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Not Everyone Binge DrinksHelp prevent substance abuse on your campus with these posters from the design team behind our award-winning online training program Think About It.

These posters raise awareness about the risks of using alcohol and marijuana by addressing widely-held myths about each substance.

“Weed is Not Safe for Everyone” debunks the widespread and false belief that using marijuana is a universally safe and positive experience. This poster highlights statistics regarding the frequency of negative reactions to marijuana consumption, giving students the facts to more accurately assess the consequences of using cannabis.

Similarly, studies have shown that college students consistently overestimate how often and how much their peers drink. “Not Everyone Binge Drinks” counteracts the potentially dangerous perception that “everyone else is doing it” by providing students with the most reliable figures available on the prevalence of on-campus binge drinking.

Download the posters here:

  1. Weed is Not Safe for Everyone
  2. Not Everyone Binge Drinks
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