Aug 13, 2020

Do campus reports of alcohol consumption understate abuse?

National study belies campus stats

I DON’T THINK of Fresno State students as paragons of virtue. I rarely think of any college-aged individual as a paragon, especially when it comes to alcohol.

Eddie Jimenez, a columnist for The Fresno Bee, wrote on Monday that after a six-student survey at Fresno State he was amazed that students acknowledge the existence of excessive drinking but “seemed to know more about drinking responsibly.”

Two of the students Jimenez spoke to are involved in BACCHUS (Boosting Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students) — a program on campus whose club purpose is “to educate peers in promoting healthy lifestyles and help peers in making responsible choices.”

A phone call to the BACCHUS president, Samantha Howell, yielded the information that BACCHUS has a club membership of eight or nine people.

Amazingly, Jimenez ran into two of them on a campus of some 22,000 students. Mathematically, running into those two should happen about .009 percent of the time.

How lucky.

I don’t mean to belittle the efforts of BACCHUS. Any organization that promotes alcohol awareness, alcohol alternatives and information about college drinking gets my support, especially because I think the information that is out there is woefully inaccurate.

We’ve all seen the Social Norms posters plastered all over campus, including the most recent one, “Even Cinderella Used a Designated Driver.”

I didn’t know Cinderella drank. I didn’t know she had time to grab a cup of wacky punch with all of her dancing with the prince, avoiding the evil stepfamily and fleeing the scene before midnight.

Maybe she needed it to overcome those “meeting the prince” nerves.

The poster also claims that 78 percent of Fresno State students use a designated driver. That’s a bit high compared to national studies.

According to a study in the September 1998 Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 37 percent of its participants said they use a designated driver when they are drinking alcohol and need to drive somewhere.

While I would like to believe that Fresno State students are so much more responsible than other college students, I somehow doubt it.

A 1995 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 44 percent of students were identified as binge drinkers. The Fresno State Social Norms project surveyed 977 students in spring 2006, which is about 4.4 percent of the student population.

Their Web site says 66 percent of their respondents drink once, twice, or not at all in a typical month.

Interestingly enough, the Social Norms site also says seven out of 10 students experience no “negative consequences” from the drinking they do indulge in.

The Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study from 2000 found that about 75 percent of students were impacted by other students’ drinking habits, with more than 70 percent having sleep or study interrupted. Another 57 percent had to take care of drunk students and 23 percent experienced “an unwanted sexual encounter.”

Somebody is having “negative consequences.”

In 2002 CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed described alcohol abuse as “…the number one problem on university campuses.”

Apparently not at Fresno State though, because according to the Social Norms Web site, 98 percent of Fresno State students practice at least one safe drinking habit, which can range from counting drinks, pacing drinks, eating before you drink and doing 17 cartwheels in a row.

If Fresno State students are so aware of the hazards of drinking and it is such a minimal problem on our campus, why did President John Welty testify to the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs about “The Binge Drinking Epidemic on College Campuses” in the spring of 2002?

Maybe it was just in the past five years that Fresno State became such an example for other colleges and universities.

I think the Social Norms project is an inaccurate representation of the true habits of Fresno State students.

I believe the information that has been put out there is harmful because it leads students to believe there is no problem with excessive drinking among college students.

I doubt that anyone looks at a Social Norms poster and thinks, “Wow, only 67 percent of students have 0-3 drinks when they ‘party’? I am definitely going to cut back this Friday night.”

However, the national estimate of almost 2,000 students dying from alcohol-related injuries might make you pause, as might the statistic of almost 600,000 students being injured because of alcohol.

I hope Fresno State students are as good as they say. But somehow, I don’t think so.

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