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Release: Immediate

Binge drinking rate at UI unchanged from 1993 to 1997

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- More than 63 percent of University of Iowa students engaged in some form of binge drinking in 1997, according to survey results released today by the UI. The percentage of UI students who said they binged in 1997 (63.1 percent) was virtually unchanged from the number who reported binging in the 1993 survey (63.8 percent). Both surveys asked students to report on their alcohol consumption during the two weeks before they completed the survey.

The UI figures were made public Thursday in conjunction with the release of a national survey conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health. The Harvard Alcohol Study found that binge drinking continues largely unabated on American campuses, based on its second survey of 116 nationally representative universities and colleges. The UI participated in both the 1993 and 1997 surveys.

"The national figures and our own figures on binge drinking provide vivid confirmation that we have a serious problem with the number of college students who are drinking to get drunk," said UI President Mary Sue Coleman. "This is a public health problem. We know that students who drink to get drunk are less likely to succeed academically. Just as important, they are causing personal, social and economic harm to non-binging students and our community at large."

The Harvard study was based on the responses of 14,521 students in 1997 and compared to those of 15,103 students surveyed in 1993. The study defined heavy episodic or binge drinking as the consumption of at least five drinks in a row for men or four drinks in a row for women during the two weeks before the students completed the questionnaire.

The new national survey, which appears in the September issue of the Journal of American College Health, found that 42.7 percent of students binged one or more times during the two-week period covered in the 1997 survey, a slight decrease from 44.1 percent in 1993. Half of that group, 20.7 percent, said they frequently engaged in binge drinking (three or more episodes in the two-week period). That compares with a frequent binge-drinking rate of 19.5 percent in 1993. At the UI the percentage of frequent binge drinkers increased from 28.2 percent in 1993 to 34.8 percent in 1997.

There was one bright sign in the national survey. The number of students who abstained from drinking alcohol increased from 15.6 percent in 1993 to 19 percent in 1997, according to Henry Wechsler, director of College Alcohol Studies at the Harvard School of Public Health. The number of abstainers also increased at the UI from 6 percent in 1993 to 9.4 percent in 1997.

However, drinkers experienced more alcohol-related problems in 1997 affecting their health, education, safety and interpersonal relations, Wechsler noted. These included driving after drinking, getting into fights, damaging property, getting injured, getting in trouble with the police, having unplanned and unprotected sex, missing classes, and getting behind in schoolwork.

Just as important, the vast majority of non-binge drinking students - 78.8 percent - continue to be negatively affected by the disruptive behavior of binge drinkers. Those "second-hand" effects include being the victim of physical and sexual assault, unwanted sexual advances, having property vandalized, and having sleep or study interrupted. The total number of UI students affected by second-hand effects was not available for the 1997 survey. In 1993 some 87 percent of non-binging UI students reported experiencing those second-hand effects.

"I hope that this latest study will encourage more students, faculty, staff and community members to support the efforts of our Stepping Up Coalition to reduce binge drinking and its second-hand effects," Coleman said.

The Stepping Up Project, a community and campus coalition, is part of a national effort to reduce high-risk drinking among college students. The $10 million program, which includes 10 college campus communities, seeks to reduce binge drinking and the many problems associated with it, including alcohol poisoning deaths, car crash fatalities, injuries, suicide, sexual assault and other physical violence, property damage, academic failure and other harmful behavior. The program is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and administered by the American Medical Association.

Noting that the 1997 survey was completed before the Stepping Up Project began its efforts, Coleman said, "We know that reducing binge drinking is a long-term project, but we are optimistic that we are on the right road. Our fraternities have decided to quit serving alcohol at their houses, we have increased non-alcohol-related activities for our students, we have community members looking at alternative activities for junior high and high school students, and we have completed a community-wide survey on alcohol attitudes, use and support for alcohol policy changes.

"We welcome additional ideas and support from the entire community," she said.