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Monday, December 6, 2010

Time to Change the Culture of Drinking on College Campuses

All-nighters, midnight pizza runs, bottomless coffee cups, fraternities and sororities. Unfortunately, college binge drinking has become so popular, that it too can be considered a college tradition - but it’s a dangerous one.

Statistics available on drinking on college campuses reveal that just about half of all college students engage in binge drinking defined as having five drinks in a row for males and four for women in one “episode.”

This activity contributes to approximately 1,700 deaths of young adults between the ages of 18 to 24 years. It is also a factor in 600,000 injuries and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or rape. It is estimated that around 70 percent of the on-campus student body drinks. 80 percent of women living in sorority houses and 86 percent of men living in fraternity houses engage in binge drinking.

At its website, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says the tradition of drinking on college campuses has developed into a culture entrenched in every level of college students’ environments. The website notes that customs handed down through generations of college drinkers reinforce students’ expectations that alcohol is a necessary ingredient for social success.

The NIAAA says that these beliefs and the expectations that come with them greatly influence how students view and use alcohol. Keg parties, drunken scenes at sporting events, and weekend get-togethers at bars have become the norm at many colleges. Too often, otherwise sensible young people engage in dangerous drinking activities because of peer pressure (often indirect) that permeates their school environment.

Fortunately, a custom or tradition is not a predisposition. High school students don’t graduate hard-wired to binge drink, so the key is to challenge those longstanding expectations and change the culture of drinking on college campuses. To help do this, we need intervention at three levels: the individual-student, the entire student body, and the community.

Changing a culture is no easy matter. It is well known that interest around prevention efforts is keen and immediate if a student dies as a result of excessive drinking. However, the drive to make deep changes or explore root causes often wanes after a crisis recedes. It takes time and energy to implement an effective, research-based prevention program, and it is essential that administrators obtain external support from the community, alcohol beverage and hospitality industries, foundations, and other organizations.

And there things schools can do now. For example, schools could tailor programs to address their specific alcohol-related problems. Since no two schools are alike, environmental influences as well as individual student characteristics can impact alcohol consumption, therefore effective strategies need to extend beyond the campus itself to encompass the surrounding community.

There is a need for colleges to implement better and more sustained efforts of informing students of the dangers of binge drinking.

While nearly everyone is aware of the dangers of activities like drunk driving, they are not always familiar with the inherent risks of drinking too many drinks too quickly. Presentations to incoming freshmen and students groups can help raise awareness of the detrimental effects of binge drinking.

Many schools have also launched successful marketing campaigns warning of the dangers of binge drinking through posters, public service announcements and newspaper advertisements.

Colleges can also lessen the likelihood their students will participate in binge drinking is by providing alcohol-free activities for students. Many schools plan dances, performances, movie showings and even arts and crafts projects on those nights when traditionally students like to “party.” Making use of student unions and activity centers can keep students on campus and away from places where drinking will occur.

Unfortunately, many colleges and universities send mixed messages about drinking, which makes the binge drinking problem worse. School administrators need to send clearer messages about drinking on and off campus. They need to seriously consider banning alcohol-related advertising on campus or stop selling beer mugs and shot glasses with the school logo on them.

We are sure that there are other ideas out there designed to help change the culture of drinking on college campuses. We are always happy to join the conversation and to work with any task force tasked with this important mission. We welcome your input. We’d love to hear from you.

To learn more about what can be done and what strategies can be implemented in order to affect a change about college drinking, contact NCADD today at 732-254-3344.


Bullying. A New (Old) Problem

"A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself."

Over the past few months, NCADD has published several articles in our various newsletters that have dealt with bullying from different perspectives. We’ve written about bullying among girls, cyber bullying, and more. New, recent events and the media’s focus on this issue have prompted us to focus on this issue in greater detail.

As you know, NCADD’s mission is to promote the health and well-being of individuals through the reduction or elimination of substance abuse problems. Bullying interferes with the well-being and emotional stability of individuals in our communities. As a coping mechanism for bullying, both the bullies and their victims may turn to substance abuse.

What do we know about bullies? Research suggests that kids who bully suffer from a lack of parental warmth and involvement; overly permissive parenting and a lack of clear, consistent rules governing their behavior; parents who often don’t know where the kids are or who they’re hanging out with; and parents who use very harsh, corporal methods of discipline. Kids who bully may have also been victems of bullies themselves.

Kids who bully their peers are also more likely to be engaged in a variety of other anti-social, violent or disturbing behaviors. We know that kids who bully are more likely to get into frequent fights, steal or vandalize property, drink alcohol, smoke, be truant, even drop out of school. They perceive a more negative climate at their school and are more likely to carry a weapon. Worse still, 40-60 percent of adolescent bullies go on to be criminal offenders as adults.

Fortunately, bullying is finally getting the attention it deserves. No longer is it being shrugged off as “kids being kids.” Recent history shows that bullying has contributed to school violence and adolescent suicides. Just in the last three months alone, there have been six bullying related suicides of kids between the ages of 10-18 years old.

So why has bullying become an epidemic? It’s due to a combination of genetic factors, brain chemistry and new environmental trends. Some young people are bullies because they are bored and crave excitement; some do it to feel powerful; some engage in this behavior as a response to family problems; some do it for attention and to be popular with their peers.

Bullying can take on many forms. It could include verbal bullying that features derogatory comments and bad names; bullying through social exclusion or isolation; or physical bullying which includes hitting, kicking, shoving, and spitting. Many are familiar with bullying through lies and false rumors or having money or other things taken or damaged by students who bully; but there is also racial bullying, sexual bullying, and of course, cyber bullying (through the internet or cell phone.)

Bullying has resulted in about 160,000 US students skipping school daily to avoid being bullied. Thirty-two percent of students report being bullied at school during the school year. Available research indicates that verbal harassment increases the likelihood of alcohol use (by middle school students as they move on to high school) and further suggests that peer harassment may be fueling aggression and antisocial behaviors. Most disturbingly, 86 percent of LGBTQ youth report being bullied, and 40 percent of identified LGBTQ youth attempt suicide before the age of 18.

We are pleased that in 2002 New Jersey passed a law (AB 1874) which requires each school district to adopt a policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation, or bullying on school property, while at a school-sponsored function, or on a school bus. The policy must include a definition of bullying behavior, consequences for engaging in such behavior, a procedure for investigation of reports of such behavior, a statement prohibiting retaliation or reprisal against persons reporting bullying behavior, and consequences for making a false accusation.

The law also requires school employees, students or volunteers to report any incidents of bullying, intimidation, and harassment to appropriate school officials. The law also grants immunity from any cause of action for damages arising from a failure to remedy the reported incident to persons reporting these incidents. In 2007, New Jersey also passed a new cyber-bullying law, which essentially adds electronic bullying to the issues schools must address in their anti-bullying policies.

Bullying affects us all. The media has given us a window of opportunity to act before this issue once again fades into the background. The legislature has given us the tools to make our schools safer. Now, it’s up to the rest of us to ensure the safety of our youth everywhere else.

  • Journal of Clinical Child and Family Psychology. Sept 2008