A College Counselor’s Perspective
When more than half of the students surveyed say they drink to get drunk, that sends up a red flag for me. As a counseling psychologist who works with the college population, I suspect that many traditional-age college students (18-22) drink alcohol as a form of “self-medication.” Were they to present themselves for assessment of emotional, behavioral, and family difficulties, they may very well be referred for medical treatment for their problems. Of note as well is the fact that drinking is generally not a “new” problem. Most heavy drinkers arrive on campus with drinking problems.
Colleges are, however, capable of responding to problem drinking. The student services component on a college campus provides a “safety net” of services to deal with the medical, psychological, and behavioral consequences of heavy drinking. These services include counseling services, judicial affairs, campus residential life, campus police, and student activities. Some colleges, according to Kiernan, are taking the courageous path of stating publicly how they address alcohol abuse, even in their alumni publications.
A new initiative in the campus response to problem drinking is recognizing the second-hand effects of binge drinking. The consequences affect not only the drinker, but also other students and faculty in the campus community. Students who do not drink or engage in low-risk drinking are affected by the problem drinking of their fellow students. These problems can range from disrupted sleep or study to caring for an intoxicated roommate to even being humiliated or assaulted.
Understanding what the prevailing social norms about drinking are on a campus can be useful in devising new prevention efforts focused on those who are tired of the second-hand effects of their binge-drinking peers. Advocates of this focus, like Mendleson, hope to give voice to the silent majority of students much the same as the anti-smoking campaign was energized by the advertising campaign against second-hand smoke.
The Role of Parents
The alcohol beverage industry itself has had to respond to the perception and reality of problem drinking on campus. The industry has joined with national campus groups to sponsor information directed to parents (Parents, You’re Not Done Yet). Parents are advised to discuss drinking behaviors with their children, distinguishing between high-risk and low-risk drinking. In general, parents have to examine their own beliefs and values and behavior regarding alcohol, know how to get help for their children on campus, and teach their children how to refuse a drink.
Kiernan, B. (2000, Fall). Weaving a safety net. Fairfield NOW, 23(4), 12-16.
Mendelson, E. (2000, October 20), Emphasis on social norms can help curb drinking. Chronicle of Higher Education, 47(8), B13-14.
Parents, you’re not done yet (no date). Washington, DC: The Century Council. Retrieved November 28, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.centurycouncil.org/parents/index.cfm
Wechsler, H. (2000, October 20). Binge drinking: Should we attack the name or the problem? Chronicle of Higher Education, 47(8), B12-13.
Wechsler, H., & Isaac, N. (1992). “Binge” drinkers at Massachusetts colleges: Prevalence, drinking style, time trends, and associated problems. Journal of the American Medical Association, 267(21), 2929-2931.
Wechsler, H., Lee, J.E., Kuo, M., & Lee, H. (2000). College binge drinking in the 1990s: A continuing problem. Results of the Harvard School of Public Health 1999 College Alcohol Study. Journal of American College Health, 48(5), 199-210.
Wechsler, H., Molnar, B.E., Davenport, A.E., & Baer, J.S. (1999). College alcohol use: A full or empty glass? Journal of American College Health, 47(6), 247-252.