Ten Facts about Collegiate Binge Drinking

by Corbin G. Keech and Charles W. Fairchild

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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, Henry Wechsler, 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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

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