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The Sobering Truth

In light of statistics that say alcohol abuse on college campuses is high, Albright College takes a proactive approach to curbing its use.

by Jennifer Post Stoudt

The beer guzzling, toga wearing Bluto Blutarski, played by John Belushi in National Lampoon’s 1978 movie, "Animal House," became an icon for college students everywhere. In 2002, "Van Wilder," the story of a womanizing partier who is getting ready to enter his seventh year at Coolidge College, hit the big screen. But are these rebel-rousing, binge-drinking movie characters the norm on college campuses today?

For the most part, the characters portrayed in these movies are exaggerated. But the problem remains a serious one at colleges nationwide.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), data from several national surveys indicate that about four in five college students drink and about half of college student drinkers engage in heavy episodic consumption, or binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more for women.

Statistics also show that students are not starting to drink when they enter college, but at a much earlier age. The NIAAA reports that 30 percent of 12th graders said they engaged in binge drinking in high school. Slightly more report having "been drunk," and three quarters report drinking in the past year. Students are coming to college already having experienced alcohol.

This trend leaves colleges and universities "inheriting" a substantial number of drinking problems that began in adolescence.

According to the most recent Cleary Act crime statistics, Albright College had 188 reported liquor violations in 2000, up from 97 in 1999. This is the largest number out of the three other residential colleges in Berks County – Alvernia College, Kutztown University and Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley College. Director of Security Bob Gerken says Albright’s numbers are high, "because we’re very proactive." Between security, the judicial system and the RA’s (resident assistants), "we’re all doing the jobs we’re supposed to be doing," he says.

Albright’s statistics are not unlike those reported at other small, private institutions in Pennsylvania. Colleges are not required to publicly post alcohol offenses, but of those that did, Cabrini College reports 227 liquor violations; Susquehanna University reports 131; Muhlenberg College reports 143; Ursinus College reports 49; Franklin & Marshall College reports 106; Elizabethtown College reports 52; and Lycoming College reports 120.

"No one would say that our goal is to stamp out alcohol on campus entirely. That’s impossible," says Gerken. "We just don’t want an alcohol-related tragedy."

Matt Brick ’04 knows the effects of binge drinking first hand. "My freshman year a friend of mine went overboard and ended up in the hospital," Brick says. "Fortunately, everything ended up okay, but it was scary," he says. "I was truly wowed by what drinking can do to a person."

Although Brick says he and his friends do drink, "We make it a point to keep it in control so no one gets hurt," he says.

But many students who don’t know how to remain in control do in fact get hurt – physically, mentally or emotionally.

According to the NIAAA, the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) call binge drinking among college students a major public health problem.

Samantha Wesner, Albright’s nurse practitioner, says she frequently sees students in her office with health problems that are related to alcohol.

The most common problems include difficulty sleeping, studying and concentrating, an increase in illnesses due to a weakened immune system, and a need for emergency contraception after having unprotected sex. But, she says, she also sees students who have been sexually assaulted or have gotten in a fight. "They almost always involve alcohol," she says.

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