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A New Look at Binge Drinking on Campus

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In September 1997, MIT freshman Scott Krueger, 18, died from consuming large quantities of beer, whiskey, and rum as part of a fraternity initiation ritual. A Louisiana State University student died in August of that year during his fraternity's bid night.

"Over the past few years, there have been some very public deaths among students due to binge drinking, and this has brought attention to binge drinking, which has been a problem at colleges and universities for a very long time," says Mark Goldman, PhD, a distinguished research professor of psychology at the University of South Florida in Tampa and co-chairman of the NIAAA panel. "Binge drinking is not new, but deaths may be increasing due to changes in drinking patterns and/or drinking games on college campuses."

"The point of the NIAAA action is to put this issue on a research track," he says. "We plan to evaluate what we know about binge drinking and where it happens and then look at prevention and treatment and identify the things that are most effective and build on them."

Some suggested solutions include banning advertisers from targeting college students, increasing the cost of alcohol to make it less accessible to students, enforcing fines for students using fake identification, and developing peer counseling programs. Beer is already banned on 25% of college campuses, and 33% do not allow distilled spirits.

"All of us believe that there is no magic potion or defined series of steps that can transform this issue overnight," says the Rev. Edward Malloy, president of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., and an NIAAA panel member. "We need to learn from the experiences of other campuses, share that information, and be open to reconfiguring how we deal with the issue," he tells WebMD.

"Binge drinking impedes the quality of education and puts people at risk and too often establishes a lifetime pattern of abuse and addiction," Malloy says.

A recent study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that heavy drinking during the teen years may cause damage to thinking abilities. About half of all college binge drinkers start drinking in high school, Wechsler says.

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