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FEATURE/Binge Drinking: Big Killer On Campus; Reader's Digest Reporter Goes Back to School to Learn Why Students are Losing Their Lives to the Bottle.


"I'm not that drunk. I just can't stand up."

University of Wisconsin student,

on the ground at a downtown intersection, 2 a.m.

Beer blasts and tailgate parties have always been a part of campus life. But as the November issue of Reader's Digest magazine reports, college drinking has taken an ugly and treacherous new turn -- with alcohol abuse now linked to thousands of student deaths each year.

A 1997 Harvard study, and a rash of student fatalities, provided stunning headlines on the scope of "binge drinking." But Reader's Digest reporter Sabrina Rubin, a recent college graduate herself, determined to go beyond the statistics, headed back to school to view this alarming trend first-hand.

"Binge Drinking, A Campus Killer," Rubin's special report in the magazine's November 1998 issue, includes frank talk from students on why they blithely risk injury, violence, even death to soak themselves in booze. As one 19-year-old proclaims at a raucous University of Wisconsin-Madison party, these college students have just one objective: "To get drunk!"

In fact, when Harvard School of Public Health researchers asked America's students why they drink, 52 percent had that very answer: "to get drunk." And 43 percent admitted binge drinking sometime in the past two weeks.

"Many college students today see not just drinking but being drunk as their primary way of socializing," laments Felix Savino, a psychologist at UW-Madison.

Binge drinking is defined as five drinks at one sitting for a man, four for a woman, enough to risk health and well-being. But with America's 12 million undergrads guzzling the equivalent of 6 million gallons of beer a week, many are chugging down much, much more. "I get real wasted on weekends," one sophomore told Rubin as he drained his tenth brewski. "I'll end up having 17, 18 beers," another student added.

Reader's Digest details how the statistics on binge drinking translate into personal tragedy for students and their families:

Fraternity or sorority membership is the biggest predictor of bingeing -- 65 percent of members binged in the nationwide Harvard study.

-- Massachusetts Institute of Technology fraternity pledge Scott

Krueger died after downing the equivalent of 15 shots in one


-- Paramedics called to the scene found more than a dozen young men

passed out at a Louisiana State University frat house, including

20-year-old Benjamin Wynne -- who died shortly later from acute

alcohol poisoning. His blood-alcohol content: nearly six times

the legal driving limit, as if he had done about 21 shots in one


And binge drinking isn't just a macho "guy thing." While the Harvard study pegged 48 percent of college males as heavy boozers, women were close behind at 39 percent.

-- Virginia Tech's Mindy Somers fell 75 feet to her death from her

dorm-room window, apparently disoriented after an evening of

off-campus partying.

-- Leslie Baltz, a University of Virginia senior, died after falling

down a flight of stairs.

-- Lorraine Hanna, a freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania,

was left alone to sleep it off after a New Year's Eve

celebration. With a blood-alcohol level four times the legal

driving limit, she never awakened.

But as Reader's Digest also explains, binge drinking spells tragedy in many different ways:

Crime: Alcohol is linked to 25 percent of violent crime and 60

percent of vandalism on campus.

Sex: According to one survey, 79 percent of students who had

experienced unwanted sexual intercourse over the past year were

under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time. "Some people

believe that alcohol can provide an excuse for inappropriate

behavior, including sexual aggression," notes University of

Washington researcher Jeannette Norris.

Classroom failure: University administrators say 29 percent of

dropouts and 38 percent of academic problems are alcohol-related.

"I almost never go to class on Friday," said one UW-Madison

reveler on a Thursday night. "It's no big deal."

Colleges are scrambling for ways to control drinking: from offering alcohol-free dorms and banning booze at student events to unleashing campus raids and police busts. But some experts warn that "zero-tolerance" merely encourages more secret, off-campus bingeing. And some even advocate lowering the drinking age to 18, to remove alcohol's illicit thrill.

Changing student behavior won't be easy. "What you've got here are people who think they are having fun," says Henry Wechsler, co-author of the Harvard study. "You can't change their behavior by preaching at them or by telling them they'll get hurt."

With this year's campus social season swinging into high gear, "Binge Drinking, A Campus Killer," in the November 1998 issue of Reader's Digest, provides a sobering wake-up call for students, parents and colleges nationwide.

Share your views and experiences on college drinking at

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here are the current Top 10 "party schools" as listed by the Princeton Review, which ranks schools on academics, activities and various other criteria:

1. State University of New York-Albany 2. University of Wisconsin-Madison 3. University of Florida 4. University of Georgia 5. University of Colorado - Boulder 6. Florida State University 7. Ohio University 8. University of Kansas 9. University of Vermont 10. Seton Hall University

Sabrina Rubin visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison, No. 2 on the list, as she researched the Reader's Digest magazine special report on college binge drinking. The 26-year-old reporter had little difficulty getting students to talk about their drinking habits: "I guess I don't look my age," she explains, "and I still use the word `like' a lot in my conversations."
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Nov 11, 1998
Previous Article:FEATURE/Are You Living a Rich Life?

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