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Alcohol Safety for Women in College

By HERWriter
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Many people associate the college experience with partying and experimentation, which also includes drinking.

The American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment found in its fall 2009 survey that 59.8 percent of women used alcohol within the last 30 days, while 58.6 percent of men had the same answer. Also, fewer women than men were found to have never used alcohol, although the difference was not very significant. If you assumed the statistics represented the actual college population, there are slightly more men who haven't tried alcohol in college than women.

It seems that more people assume men drink alcohol, but college women also seem to participate in this sometimes dangerous social experience.

For example, 10.1 percent of college women had seven or more drinks at the last party or social event they attended.

Kevin Prince, an alcohol and drug education program coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin, said students have the most problems with underage and binge drinking.

At his university, incoming freshmen and transfer students have to take an alcohol education course.

“When students go through a program like that, they tend to make better choices for themselves,” Prince said. “The program’s not meant to say ‘You bad little kids, you shouldn’t be drinking.’ It really just informs them to correct their misperceptions about drinking.”

He said some misperceptions are that everyone is getting drunk and partying and staying up all night, when that's only a minority.

Besides educating students beforehand, sometimes their own experiences and consequences will teach them.

“While we don’t like our students to be arrested…the stories they have after being arrested by the police are actually sometimes more powerful than the education they will receive from the very beginning,” Prince said.

When referring to binge drinking, Prince means four or more drinks for women in one sitting and five or more drinks for men. This includes a shot of liquor, a 12-ounce can of beer or a five-ounce glass of wine.

“There’s a lot of misperception out there about how much drinking you should do,” Prince said. “But even with those misperceptions, one of the things we know is that most students when they do go out, they have usually four or fewer drinks.”

Some negative side effects of binge drinking can be the possibility of getting in more trouble with the law, with school, wasting money, not having as much fun and receiving criticism from others for drinking too much, he said.

Health problems associated with excessive alcohol drinking are liver disease, memory loss, shrinkage of the brain, heart damage, cancer and a risk for sexual assault, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other risks include alcohol poisoning, which is an excessive intake of alcohol that can lead to death.

Sexual assault and violence in general can increase with alcohol usage, though that’s not the only factor, he said.

“Unfortunately, people who think like that, who want to take advantage of other people, they don’t need drugs or alcohol to do it because that’s just their mentality,” Prince said.

Some people don’t remember what they did while drinking alcohol, but he said they’re still responsible for their choices.

Peer pressure can be an issue with drinking in college, and he said he encourages students to consider their reasons for not wanting to drink while their friends are, and to tell friends their reasons. Students should also hang out more with friends that don’t drink if they feel pressured or don’t want to hang out when their other friends are drinking.

He said he remembers one woman who was “concerned that guys would be mad at her if she didn’t take their drink offer,” and thought she was hurting their feelings, but when she told them she didn’t want to drink, it was okay.

Krissy Jones, an assistant coordinator of the Self Over Substance program at the University of Montana, said there are issues with alcohol safety at college because students are going through lifestyle changes, like increased freedom, and aren’t educated about the effects of alcohol.

She said drunk driving is a major issue in Montana, and binge drinking, alcohol poisoning and sexual assault are also issues associated with alcohol.

Rape and sexual assault are almost always tied to overdrinking, she said, adding that judgment and coordination can be impaired, as well as completely passing out.

“I think that problem would be almost completely eliminated on college campuses if alcohol weren’t a factor,” Jones said, referring to rape and sexual assault.

There needs to be more education overall, she said.

“Someone needs to educate them about… ‘Drink if you’re going to drink, but do it in a way that’s not going to kill you,'” Jones said.

Men might have more pressure to drink than women, she said, because of gender roles.

“I feel like girls might have other social outlets,” Jones said. “I hear more often of girls hanging out together watching a movie and just watching a movie. I just don’t feel like I ever hear about that from guys…it’s always, ‘We hung out and got wasted.’”


Add a Comment1 Comments

I think these are real concerns and I am glad that people are writing and thinking about ways to do something about them.

I do think, however, that many of the attempts to curb binge drinking and extreme alcohol use are misguided. You can't control people's behavior by arresting them or making something illegal, or even by forcing them to take a class. Any messages forced on people are just going to go in one ear and out the other--and in my opinion the "crackdowns" many campuses do on alcohol just make the problem worse, by pushing parties and alcohol use off-campus.

I think that a better way for colleges to address alcohol use would be to focus on creating a vibrant, stable, mature, diverse on-campus community. For example, if every college mixed up their residence halls so that incoming freshmen were all placed on halls that had at most 50% freshman, and the freshmen were intermixed room-by-room with sophomores, juniors, and seniors, I think this would immediately change the culture--by providing older students as role models. These students would already be involved in more wholesome activities, such as student organizations, activities, and more moderate drinking / alcohol use. They would lead by example without the school having to intervene with rules.

Schools could also help by making student organizations easier, and by ensuring that students were treated with more respect by professors and administrators.

Colleges could also solve the problem by focusing on the negative behaviors that impact others, rather than enforcing alcohol policies with an iron fist. If a freshman is drinking a couple beers in their room quietly, without disturbing others and without imperiling their health or the safety of others, the school absolutely should not crack down on this behavior, even if it is illegal. By doing so, it sends the message that such moderate use is bad--and it encourages off-campus parties that grow out of control. On the other hand, when students become loud and rowdy and start imposing on others, or when they damage property or endanger themselves or others, then the college should intervene. This will provide the right system of incentives, it will protect the responsible students and it will crack down on the problems, not cracking down on responsible alcohol use.

Why do colleges not take this approach? I don't know. I just wish I could be appointed as the head of some college's alcohol task force, as I'm confident that I would be able to quickly (4 years or so) transition away from the party culture to a more wholesome social environment. The key though is to acknowledge that in order to do this, you really do need to loosen the reins a bit.

August 17, 2010 - 12:30pm
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