Ten Facts about Collegiate Binge Drinking
by Corbin G. Keech and Charles W. Fairchild
- There is a significant neo-prohibitionist movement underway
in this country. This anti-alcohol campaign is extremely well
bankrolled. For example, between 1997 and 2002, the Robert
Wood Johnson Foundation alone spent more than $265 million
to increase taxation, form negative attitudes and achieve more
restrictions on alcohol alone. The movement is tightly organized,
self-righteous and has sympathetic ears in the media. It is a
combination of private and public advocacy organizations, special
interest groups and governmental agencies pushing their own agenda
on elected representatives, lawmakers and officials.
- The neo-prohibitionists have targeted the entire alcohol industry,
and not just the manufacturers. Restaurants and bars, as well
as the social drinker, are all part of today’s prohibition,
drop by drop. One expert describes the collective result as a
simultaneous, multi-pronged offensive on the way adult beverages
are perceived, distributed, sold and consumed. This assault is
designed not only to address product abuse, but simply to force
everyone to drink less or not at all.
- Since Constitutional prohibition was an acknowledged failure,
today’s modern prohibitionists seek to characterize alcohol
as an illicit drug that is culturally unacceptable. This notion
of zero tolerance is precisely the environment in which young
adults currently live.
- The studies and articles claiming an increase of alcohol abuse,
alcohol related deaths or alcohol caused traffic fatalities among
society in general, and specifically, the young adult population
are untrue. These claims are the propaganda of the neo-prohibitionist
movement, based on junk science and manipulated statistics, and
are misreported by the media.
- Numerous studies report and provide the accurate statistics
showing that most young people and adults drink very little or
not at all. Alcohol is not an important part of life for most
Americans. In fact, even the American Medical Association, a staunch
critic of the alcohol industry, concurs that the overwhelming
majority of adults drink alcohol responsibly.
- Consistently, the data show that among the 18 to 22 year old
full time undergraduate population, 81% consume moderate to minimal
amounts of alcohol or abstain completely. Other studies debunk
the claims that alcohol consumption by young people result in
widespread criminal problems. That just isn’t happening
to the extent argued by the anti-alcohol movement. In reality,
alcohol consumption has significantly and steadily declined in
the 18 to 25 age group since 1980 and the same is true for alcohol
related traffic fatalities. As for the Echo Boomer generation,
studies document that they drink less, smoke less and commit less
crime. The vast majority are in control of their alcohol consumption.
- The claims that most collegians are engaging in widespread
binge drinking are false. It is best described as the binge spin.
Binge drinking is clinically and commonly viewed as a period of
extended intoxication lasting several days during which the binger
drops out of usual life activities. However, in the early 1990s,
a PhD. at Harvard, received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation to conduct an investigation of college drinking habits.
In doing so, he created a whole new definition for binge drinking.
Wechsler’s study defined “binge drinking” as
a male student who had five or more drinks or a female student
who had four or more drinks in a row at least once in a two-week
period. Another flaw with Wechsler’s methodology is the
absence of a time period over which the purported binge drinking
occurs. Additionally, Henry Wechsler then subdivided binge drinking
into “frequent binge drinkers” and “occasional
binge drinkers” in order to claim a collegiate binge drinking
population composed of 44% of the undergraduate student population.
The real data simply do not support these conclusions.
- The anti-alcohol campaign is grossly exaggerating a societal
problem and using junk science to support their position. Even
Henry Wechsler fully admits at the beginning of his study that
alcohol abuse has been entrenched on America’s campuses
since the first colleges were chartered in colonial days. Wechsler
then goes on to say that until recently, heavy college drinking
has been largely ignored, tolerated or winked at. However, history
will document that, by and large, previous generations have been
productive contributors to American society. History will also
document that Henry Wechsler and others are receiving millions
in grant monies to undertake studies that result in conclusions
favorable to the neo-prohibitionist movement. Perhaps it pays
to go to Harvard.
- The best approach is called social norms programs. The often
publicized impression of the standard operating procedure for
today’s young people is drunken debauchery. This is simply
untrue. It is a bad misperception and contrary to the 18 to 25
age group’s social norms. The thrust of social norms programs
is to reframe the same negative data that traditionally highlights
the minority of students who are boozing it heavily and attributing
that behavior to the majority. The social norms approach intervenes
to correct the viewpoint of the college drinking scene. The use
of marketing campaigns and other strategies to give students accurate
feedback do work. Once the truth gets out that the majority of
students drink moderately or not at all, they will behave accordingly.
Even the American Medical Association admits that studies show
college age students overestimate the drinking frequency of their
fellow students and the drinking norms on their campuses. By communicating
the true facts about campus alcohol consumption, the resulting
peer pressure becomes one of restraint rather than encouragement.
More colleges need to embrace the social norms approach.
- The whole issue over alcohol and claims of an epidemic of binge drinking is an insult and betrays lack of respect for American
adults age 18 to 20. They have the right to vote, to fight for
our country, to hold office, to pay taxes, to serve on a jury
and convict others of crimes, to be tried and punished fully for
any crime, to enter into contracts, to own property, to operate
a business and be an employer, to sue and be sued, to enter into
marriage, to adopt children, to have abortions, to consent to
sexual intercourse or perform in pornography, if desired, to purchase
and own weapons, to assume debt, to play the lottery, to be fully
authorized to drive a vehicle or fly a plane, and even buy cigarettes.
But with regard to alcohol, these adults are treated as children.
This isn’t about promoting a pro-alcohol stance. It is called
being pro-youth, pro-rights, and pro-fairness.
Adapted from Keech, Corbin G., and Fairchild,
Charles W. Dude, What are My Rights?: The Self-Help Legal Survival
Guide for Ages 18-25. Kansas City, MO: Collegiate Services
Coalition of America, 2005. ISBN 0-9763201-0-X
This user-friendly book provides practical legal
advice on a wide variety of issues often faced by young adults,
of which alcohol is but one. Neither this web site nor its host
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