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binge drinking

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, 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, 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, October 3, 2014

For this week’s roundup we return to oft-discussed but important theme of what role fraternities do and should be playing in the campus sexual assault crisis.

No, Fraternities’ Biggest Problem is Not Drunk Women

Last week Forbes published a thought piece by one Bill Frezza, president of the alumni house corporation for MIT fraternity Chi Phi Beta. Between Frezza’s troubling title, “Drunk Female Guests Are the Gravest Threat to Fraternities,” and the disturbing allegation that intoxicated women are the cause of sexual assault, as opposed to the men who assault them, the piece came in for its well-deserved share of criticism, and was eventually pulled by Forbes. In this opinion piece, Time Magazine does an excellent job demonstrating that fraternities are in fact their own biggest problem, pointing to the high number of hazing-related deaths (events that involve no women, drunk or otherwise), the well-documented plague of binge-drinking that afflicts frat members themselves, and the qualitative evidence provided by the insurance industry, which universally considers fraternities to be an extremely high risk, ranked just below hazardous waste disposal companies and asbestos contractors. Of course, the piece also acknowledges the worst part of Frezza’s article: its misogyny and victim-blaming.

Fraternity Culture at CU-Boulder [Video]

In an effort to better understand the problem of sexual assault on US campuses the BBC Pop Up team embedded themselves for a month in a house near the University of Colorado Boulder. CU-Boulder currently faces a federal investigation into their handling of sexual assault cases. This video focuses on the role fraternities play in the problem. Interviews with a variety of students, including a victim/survivor of sexual assault and a current fraternity member, reveal various opinions about the issue, although a number of students voice concerns about the way fraternities on the CU-Boulder campus approach women and partying.

Fraternities Attempt to Address Drinking, Sexual Assault through Education

Encouragingly, some fraternities are beginning to take steps to combat sexual violence and substance abuse through education. A group of eight national fraternities has joined together to form the Fraternal Health & Safety Initiative. The group will use three “trainer-led program modules” developed by risk management consulting group James R. Favor & Co. to teach bystander intervention techniques to 35,000 students at 350 campuses. According to Justin Buck, executive vice president and CEO of Pi Kappa Alpha, “The power of the FHSI curriculum is that it exposes young men to consistent, authentic techniques no matter their fraternal membership or college affiliation.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, September 19, 2014

For this week’s roundup we have three stories about the latest in substance abuse and sexual violence prevention efforts.

New White House Campaign Enlists Men in the Fight against Sexual Assault

Today President Obama and Vice President Biden announced a new campaign intended to encourage bystander intervention preventing sexual assault on college campuses. The campaign, called “It’s On Us,” is intended for all students, but is particularly focused on men. Research suggests that although the majority of college-aged men disapprove of sexual assault and sexual violence, they may be reluctant to speak out against it due to the mistaken belief that their peers will disagree. “It’s On Us” will attempt to dispel that belief. The campaign will be promoted on its website, social media and through partnerships with colleges, organizations, and private parties.

University of California Announces Plans to Take Action on Sexual Assault

In June, University of California President Janet Napolitano formed a task force on preventing and responding to sexual violence to investigate ways the University of California system could improve its current policies and procedures. This week, the task force announced seven recommendations to improve the UC’s response to sexual violence. The recommendations aim to create a more consistent, system-wide approach to these issues, including the creation of campus response teams, the standardization of adjudication and investigation procedures, the introduction of comprehensive training for students and employees, and the establishment on each campus of an independent, confidential advocacy office to support survivors. Napolitano praised the task force’s recommendations, calling them a “testament to the collaborative and rigorous approach the university is taking to become the national leader in preventing and combating sexual violence and sexual assault.”

Colleges Finding Ways to Fight Binge Drinking

If binge drinking on college campuses sometimes seems like an intractable problem, schools like Frostburg State University are proving that with the right policies administrators can reduce reckless drinking amongst their student population. Frostburg has partnered with local law enforcement, bars, and lawmakers to step up police presence around campus and limit students’ access to alcohol. They also have increased the number of Friday classes in an effort to reduce Thursday night drinking, and begun a campaign highlighting the less attractive aspects of drinking to excess. While some of the new policies are less-than-popular with students, they do seem to be having the intended effect. The number of Frostburg students who binge drink at least once every two weeks is down from 57% to 41%, much closer to the national average.

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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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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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Binge Drinking’s Social Power
Posted by On Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Students often describe alcohol as a “social lubricant” —  an easy way to feel less anxious and more talkative at parties and around new people. What they may not recognize, however, is alcohol’s symbolic (as opposed to pharmacological) role in college social life. (more…)

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What is Binge Drinking?
Posted by On Friday, February 14, 2014

Generally speaking there is no one measure of binge drinking — also known as heavy episodic drinking or beuverie express in French.

In the US, however, the most widely circulated definition is the “5/4 measure,” which defines binge drinking as consuming 5 drinks in a row for men or 4 drinks in a row for women. Confusingly…”in a row” can be replaced with, alternatively, “in one sitting,” “on one occasion,” or even “in two hours,” depending on whom you’re talking to.

Proponents of this definition, including The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA), argue that the 5/4 cutoff is important because students who drink at that level are at greater risk for experiencing alcohol-related problems than their non-binging compatriots.

Opponents, meanwhile, argue that focusing on college binge drinking vastly overstates the drinking problem on campuses to the detriment of harm-reduction programming. (more…)

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The Intoxicating Camera
Posted by On Friday, January 17, 2014

It’s coming to your campus.

I’m Shmacked, founded by Arya Toufanian and Jeffrey Ray, two twenty-something aspiring filmmakers, turns college campuses into music videos, although perhaps not in the way administrators or parents might hope. In between jump cuts to students crowd surfing and shaky cam shots of students grinding on the dance floor, the videos might showcase a few noticeable campus buildings or cheering crowds at sports games. Academics and classrooms, of course, are noticeably absent. (Though the founders claim they’d like to show them too.) 

They insist they’re merely there to document the college scene and to help prospective students learn about colleges by showcasing the social life. According to Toufanian, “Kids don’t want to read anymore…Seeing a video is a much more fun way to learn about a school.”

Of course their motto is “I’m Shmacked: It’s a movement,” which makes it sound less like a documentary project and more like…well, a movement.

The problem is the filmmakers host the parties they claim to document. Indeed, the very name I’m Shmacked suggests their focus. It’s not something you say after a hard test. It’s something you say after a few shots of hard liquor. At the bottom of their videos, the company claims that “no alcohol or illegal substance is used during filming, just props.” Perhaps the camera itself acts as a kind of intoxicant.

Indeed, students eagerly perform for the camera. The camera is not an objective lens onto campus life, but an invitation to perform. Much as alcohol can be used as a kind of permission slip to misbehave, so can the camera and the thrill of being on screen. Perhaps students are compelled by some strange sense of school spirit that measures a university’s success in cups of beer. One of the parties, held at University of Delaware, devolved into what police described as a near riot.

Co-founder Arya Toufanian admitted as much in an interview, saying, “I have cameras and a budget now, and a bunch of college kids who will do anything to be on camera.”.

Indeed, USA Today quotes one student who claims that I’m Shmacked gives students the ability to “express themselves” differently.

Other students are sensitive to the ways video and social media coax students into performing: “I’m worried that filming it will just exacerbate (students’) dangerous behavior so they look ‘cooler’ on camera,” said one student in the same USA Today news report.

Students are also divided on how appearing in one of these videos might affect their professional lives. One student thought it unlikely that he could be identified in the video:  “If my future employers were to watch the video,” he said, “I doubt the likelihood of them recognizing me.”

Meanwhile, another student told the New York Times, “To do this on a video that can go viral, you must have a train-wreck mentality.”

At the same time, we can’t completely discount the co-founders claim. I’m Shmacked does document something, though it may not be an entirely accurate reflection of campus life. It seems to open a view onto students’  attitudes regarding campus partying and their motives to party in the first place.

I’m Shmacked offers students a chance to be seen and to “represent” their school. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the videos often include shots of sporting events and/or shots of campus gear. The parties themselves are a kind of performance and competition. In several of the videos students proclaim their school is the “best.” Undoubtedly a sense of competition fuels students to act crazier.

But then again, maybe we shouldn’t get so worked up. Much of the actual footage is rather tame. Students screaming, dancing, or crowd surfing are pretty typical. A lot of the motion and action is in the editing.

Perhaps, then, I’m Shmacked offers campuses a way into a more nuanced discussion with their students about why they party. Why is this the story so many students seem to want tell about college? And if partying is about letting loose and forgetting yourself, why would anyone perform or show off for a camera?

In fact, I’m Shmacked has itself tried to open conversations on campus by adding short interviews with students about topics like “one night stands or relationships” or “drunk versus sober.”

We don’t have answers, but your students might. 

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