Underage drinking declines at colleges, St. Thomas included

Underage binge drinking has long been a source of major concern, but according to a new study done by Outside the Classroom, a company concerned with drinking issues on college campuses, underage binge drinking has been on the decline this year compared with years past.

Outside the Classroom founder and Chief Executive Brandon Busteed explained the extensive research that produced the study results. Busteed visited 1,000 universities and colleges to build the world’s largest database on student alcohol consumption, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“We collect those data through our online course, AlcoholEdu, which more than a third of all college freshmen in the United States took last year,” Busteed said. “We have also conducted several studies of alcohol-related issues—depression, sexual assault, eating disorders, other substance abuse—as well as best practices for making alcohol prevention a campus-wide priority.”

Among the many universities surveyed, the University of Tampa reduced its binge drinking rate by 23 percent in 2009 alone. Similarly, the University of Pittsburgh has reduced its rate by 12 percent in the last two years.

In order to reduce underage binge drinking, universities and colleges surveyed made alcohol-abuse prevention a campus-wide priority. In addition to mandatory campaigns informing first-year students about the dangers of underage drinking, university administrations have also increased the enforcement of alcohol policies and the drinking age on campus. Several colleges and universities have even extended these measures to landlords and local police forces to help reduce off-campus underage partying.

St. Thomas alcohol consumption

St. Thomas has seen a steady decrease in liquor law arrests and referrals, according to a 2009 Public Safety Campus Security Act Report. In 2006, there were 48 liquor law arrests, in 2007 there were 43, and in 2008 there were only 15. In 2006, there were 582 liquor law referrals, in 2007 there were 504, and in 2008 there were 456.

The Wellness Center has also noticed a decrease in the number of students assigned to the the alcohol responsibility course. From September 2008 until the spring of 2009, about 261 students were required to take the course. That number has decreased to 232 students from September 2009 until the spring of this year.

Wellness Center Graduate Assistant Sara Gustafson has not experienced a great student interest in learning the harmful effects of underage binge drinking.

“Personally, I have not had students stopping in to seek information,” she said. “I have had a number of students seeking resources for students in recovery from drugs and alcohol.”

Gustafson recommends several campus programs such as Passport to the Twin Cities, which allows students to attend events at St. Thomas and throughout the Twin Cities for free or at a discounted price. The Wellness Center also recently handed out 600 Safe Spring Break kits to students with information about the risks of underage drinking and tips for staying safe on break. The center also promotes e-CHUG, an online survey that asks St. Thomas students to analyze their use of alcohol. Students can also pick up a taxi card at the Wellness Center that includes a blood alcohol chart to help them determine their limits.

Tommies weigh in

Although the results from the Outside the Classroom study and St. Thomas’s decreasing numbers of alcohol-related incidents may look promising, many students are not convinced underage binge drinking is diminishing.

“I don’t think drinking has decreased,” junior Katie Wood said. “People still do case races, have triple kegs, drink all day to black out during game days or special occasions and students go to bars a lot more this year and still binge drink.”

Senior Patrick Krebs agreed, pointing out the potential bias of the Outside the Classroom study.

“As far as I can tell, everyone still drinks as much as they always have, though it’s not surprising a study would say that [numbers are decreasing],” he said. “I mean, who is readily going to tell a survey or interviewer, ‘Yes, I regularly black out on the weekends when I’m drinking under age at a house party or at the bar that I used my fake ID to get into?’ It just wouldn’t make sense.”

Other students, such as junior Leah Renter, simply choose to avoid binge drinking situations entirely.

“I think the fact that I have more responsibilities and don’t go out or see underage drinking as much anymore may play a part,” Renter said.

Rebecca Omastiak can be reached at omas5009@stthomas.edu.

One Reply to “Underage drinking declines at colleges, St. Thomas included”

  1. The underlying reason for this is simple: the criteria for binge drinking has changed dramatically and become not as loose. Also, it could be the fact that St. Thomas is so against the idea of drinking alcohol whatsoever that any student who is asked by non-student how much they drink, they will not be totally honest to avoid Public Safety prosecution. I’m just glad I don’t have to worry about Pubic Safety anymore.

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