About half of all full-time college students are binge drinkers and some are abusing prescription and illegal drugs at a rate never seen before, according to a recent report.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse report released last week also found that one in four college students meets the criteria for substance abuse or dependency.
“It’s time to take the high out of higher education,” said Joseph Califano in a statement, NCASA’s chairman and former U.S. secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. “This college culture of alcohol and other drug abuse is inexcusable.”
The 281-page report from Columbia University researchers is the four-year culmination of research, surveys and interviews that concluded “the intensity of excessive drinking and rates of drug abuse have jumped sharply” in college.
According to the findings, between 1993 and 2005 the proportion of students who binge drink frequently is up 16 percent; those who drink 10 or more times a month is up 25 percent; students who drink at least three times a month is up 26 percent; and those who drink to get drunk is 21 percent higher.
Researchers in the report said that students who abuse opioids like Percocet, OxyContin and Vicodin – often mixed with alcohol – have increased 343 percent. Students taking tranquilizers like Xanax and Valium are up 450 percent.
CSU has had its share of alcohol-related controversy, some of which has involved the Greek system on campus. The report states Greek members are more likely to drink than non-members.
The survey shows that students who live in Greek houses are 19 percent more likely to binge drink than those living in off-campus housing and 28 percent more likely than those in residence halls.
Binge drinking is especially common among Greeks, according to the survey, with nearly twice as many sorority members binge drinking than non-members.
Eighty percent of women and 86 percent of men living in Greek houses binge drink, the report found.
Nearly 38 percent of college administrators say the major barrier to more effective prevention is the public perception that substance abuse by students is a normal rite of passage, according to the study.
“College presidents are reluctant to take on issues they feel cannot change and this growing public health crisis reflects today’s society where students are socialized to consider substance abuse a harmless rite of passage and to mediate every ill,” said the Rev. Edward Malloy, who works on the NCASA commission.
In 2004, CSU President Larry Penley commissioned the university Alcohol Task Force shortly after two early-semester alcohol-fueled riots and the alcohol poisoning death of sophomore Samantha Spady.
Since the task force’s findings in February 2005, numerous additional alcohol programs and recommendations were adopted by CSU.
CSU is nationally renowned for effective substance abuse treatment programs through its Drugs, Alcohol and You program. The center offers a wide range of volunteer and mandatory alcohol and substance-related programs for students.
CSU is home to the nation’s first collegiate drug court, a proactive method to effectively address repeat alcohol and drug users by reducing high-risk drinking behavior and habitual use while increasing student retention.
Anne Hudgens, executive director of Campus Life, said CSU finds it more useful to focus on a continuum, which focuses on the history, patterns and consequences of a person’s drinking in addition to the binge drinking definition of abuse.
“Binge drinking can happen anywhere on a continuum from experimenters to alcoholics,” said Hudgens, who was a member of task force.
Hudgens said CSU students partake in a wide range of drinking behavior – some abstain totally on one end and others drink so regularly they are chemically dependant on the other.
“Sometimes those binge drinking numbers aren’t as useful to us as to what kind of difficulties people are having while drinking,” said Hudgens, who also said CSU takes alcohol abuse very seriously and realizes college drinking is part of a culture shaped by society.
“Our biggest concern is those students who exhibit high-risk behavior with alcohol risk, safety is compromised,” Hudgens said.
The report recognizes the increased popularity of drinking games such as beer pong and the practice of taking 21 shots on one’s 21st birthday, and states they lead to a greater intensity of binge drinking.
Hudgens said these games have always been part of college drinking, but it’s the intensity at which alcohol is consumed that concerns her.
“I think there are more students who drink to get drunk,” she said. “I think that there has been a shift from beer to drinking more hard liquor, and this is higher risk behavior.”
Patty Spady, the mother of Samantha Spady, said she was “na’ve” and “stupid” when she sent her daughter to college, not knowing the prevalent culture of college drinking.
“As a parent you send your child off to college, and you know there is alcohol on that campus, but you hope you have talked to them enough about drinking and driving and all the other issues surrounding alcohol,” Spady said.
“I had no idea (of) the style of drinking these days; I was thinking three or four beers.”
Spady now devotes all of her time to speaking engagements, media requests and strengthening the Sam Spady Foundation. Her life is dedicated to educating young people about the dangers of binge drinking.
“Please know that drinking in that style can have deadly consequences,” Spady said. “We’ve all played a part in creating this scene; it’s not just young people.”
City Editor James Baetke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.