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.
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.
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.
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.