Michigan colleges agree underage drinking a serious problem

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Capital News Service
LANSING — A 20-year-old Muskegon business student says he and his friends like to get drunk, and one of the reasons is because he’s underage.
“Since I can’t buy my own alcohol, I like to get ‘crunked up’ when I do drink,” said the student, a sophomore at Michigan State University. “I drink with the intention to get drunk. I don’t like to drink moderately.”
His philosophy and behavior is not that unusual among students his age. According to the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, underage students drink less often, but they have more drinks per occasion when they do drink.
Among students who consumed alcohol during the past year, fewer underage students drank on 10 or more occasions in the past 30 days, but reported that they were drunk on three or more occasions during that same period.
He said one of the reasons underage students drink is because they have the freedom to do so.
“In college, you are free from the restraints of high school and your parents, so you can drink whenever you want,” he said.
Even with the minimum age law in effect, underage drinking is prevalent on college campuses across America.
The College Alcohol Study calls underage drinking “a serious national problem.” It cites lax enforcement and underfunded agencies that are supposed to uphold those laws as the problem.
In 2001, 43.6 percent of underage students were classified as binge drinkers, (people who consume five or more drinks in a row), a rate that was similar to the rate for all college students nationally.
And 48.6 percent of underage drinkers reported that drinking “to get drunk” was an important reason for drinking.
“Really, it’s almost like you have to get drunk to have a good time,” said the student from Muskegon, who will be 21 in February.
While colleges and universities have increased efforts to curb binge drinking, CAS suggests there is more work to do.
CAS states that while universities and colleges have been trying to decrease binge drinking by educating drinkers and providing counseling or short-term treatment, more important areas need to be considered.
“Features of the environment that promote heavy alcohol use, such as college drinking traditions, lax college or community policies and enforcement, easy accessibility to cheap alcohol in high volume and gaps in service networks, have received less attention than other prevention efforts,” the report said.
The student from Muskegon said he is less likely to drink in the residence hall because of his fear of being cited with a MIP (minor in possession) citation–even though it’s illegal.
“You’re more likely to get caught drinking in the dorms than if you went out,” he said. “I drink with my friends in their off-campus apartments.”
He also said when he lived off campus he consumed more alcohol.
“You drink more when you are on your own and no one is watching over you.”
Jasmine Greenamyer, alcohol and other drug health educator at MSU, said 80 percent of MSU students drink and only 5 percent abuse alcohol regularly.
Greenamyer said the university is doing research to determine more specific motivations for getting drunk.
“We have the Celebrate with Knowledge grant, which is basically a study of students’ drinking behavior during celebratory events,” she said. “We’re trying to find out what do the students mean when they say they are drinking ‘to get drunk’ and are those times different from events where they throw all the rules out the window.”
She said the MSU study will observe student behavior at special times like graduation, homecoming, end-of-the-year events, etc., and compares them with non-celebratory events.
“We just want to know; Do they always drink to get drunk or is it just on the special occasions?”
One of the more controversial options in the effect to curb underage drinking is contacting students’ parents.
“It’s a highly debated issue, but right now we’re protecting students’ rights,” Greenamyer said “We do try to inform parents of incoming freshmen problem drinking patterns on campus. However, we believe it’s the students’ responsibility to talk to their parents.”
The student from Muskegon doesn’t agree with that method.
“We are legally adults and should pay for our actions,” he said.
“I think MIP is punishment enough for underage college students — most people don’t have $150 to dish out all the time.”
He is also relieved that MSU doesn’t call parents.
“My parents already know that I drink and they are discouraged,” he said. “They know that I’m irresponsible and it bothers them.”
However, knowing how his parents feel hasn’t curbed how much fun drinking he is willing to have.
“Drinking is something college students are supposed to do,” he said.
Greenamyer said MSU does advertise in the student newspaper about alcohol consumption perception, and works with the Greek system to promote responsible drinking, among other things to increase student awareness about drinking responsibly.
“We also try to target friends to be responsible for each other while drinking,” she said.
Last semester Ferris State University implemented a parent notification program.
“We contact a student’s parents if he or she gets two or more campus alcohol violations,” said Tom Liszewski, substance abuse counselor at FSU.
He said that the university’s drinking population is close to the national average at 85 percent, and 45 percent of the student population are high-risk drinking.
“I conduct a harm–reduction seminar that usually is attended by underage students who live in the residence halls,” he said.
Liszewski said the parent notification program has been well received at the university but it is still too soon to determine its effectiveness.
Like MSU, Ferris is also trying to dispel myths about drinking and increase student awareness of alcohol responsibility.
“We are currently promoting the ‘social norms’ campaign to increase student awareness of alcohol consumption,” he said.
“One of the biggest programs we do is the Community Task Force, which is made up of faculty, staff, student organizations, local drinking establishments and other representatives in the community. We are determined to encourage students who drink to drink responsibly.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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