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Crackdown: Binge Drinking at Colleges

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"We want to reverse the social influences that encourage high-risk drinking," he tells WebMD. "Students are bombarded with alcohol promotions, advertisements that portray drinking as something that's cool, sexy, fun. All sorts of special offerings -- two-for-one drinks, dollar pitchers of beer, ladies' night, advertising promotions for spring break -- they all have a significant influence."

The AMA's program is making a difference, he says.

Just last week, Microsoft agreed to pull a web site promotion for a microbrew kit being marketed as a gift from parents to their homesick kids at college. "It came with a book, 'Games You Can Play While Drinking Beer,' something like that," Hill tells WebMD. "We were appalled."

On the campus level, headway is being made at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where about 150 liquor licenses have traditionally been awarded within a two-mile radius of campus.

"I myself have attended meetings of the local Alcohol License Review Commission, to get license changes made," University Chancellor John Wiley said at a press conference announcing the survey's findings.

"We've managed to get quite restrictive conditions written into the liquor licenses for a number of local establishments," says Wiley. "These venues have promised to provide training to employees, beef up security around the premises, not serve someone who appears to be drunk. The most controversial change ... [is that] some have agreed to offer no drink specials whatsoever."

Drinking in hotels, private apartments, and other settings also must be addressed, says Wiley. "This is not a simple problem; there's not one solution."

It's also not a new phenomenon, says Wiley. "It's been going on -- on this campus, most campuses -- for over 100 years. But nothing has been done to systematically address it. Mostly there's been a lot of hand-wringing. Only in the last five, six years have we made substantial progress."

College kids -- especially freshmen -- are particularly vulnerable, says Marty McGough, of Penn, Schoen, and Berland Associates of Washington, D.C., who served as pollster for the survey.

"Americans are prone to look the individual and say they're responsible for their actions," he says. "But almost all Americans agree that college students don't fully understand the risks of their drinking, especially as related to drunk driving, fatal car accidents, HIV infection, date rape, and other things."

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