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'Celebratory Drinking' Culture on Campus

Dangerous Drinking Style Popular Among College Students

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Nov. 5, 2002 -- Campus celebrations may be fueling a dangerous drinking style among students. A new survey shows that the combination of peer pressure, home football games, campus events, and holidays can prompt many college students to drink excessive amounts of alcohol -- even if they don't intend to.

Researchers found only 5% of Michigan State University (MSU) students surveyed say they party to get drunk, but more than half of those who drank on occasions like Halloween, St. Patrick's Day, or a big football game ended up getting drunk.

The authors say this "celebration drinking" pattern could increase the risk of health problems associated with excessive alcohol use. In fact, about two-thirds of the students themselves say they've been concerned enough about the health of friends that they have tried to get a friend who had too much to stop drinking.

The survey found the number of students who drink on celebration days, such as "welcome week," Halloween, St. Patrick's Day, home-game football Saturdays, the end of fall semester, and spring break, is greater than the percentage that drink on typical days. In addition, those students who drink on celebration days tend to drink more, drink over a longer period of time, and are more likely to get drunk.

Those findings from the telephone survey of 1,162 MSU students conducted last spring have now prompted a new pilot program and educational campaign at MSU sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education to help students use alcohol responsibly during celebrations.

"We found that many students actually intend to protect themselves from excessive drinking or the problems that can result from this behavior," says Larry Hembroff, senior survey methodologist at the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at MSU and lead evaluator of the survey, in a news release.

"However, many overestimate the amount of alcohol they can consume without putting themselves at risk of serious health problems. Even if they do know their limit, many get caught up in the spirit of the occasion and lose track of how much they've had to drink," says Hembroff.

The authors say the results show there are certain actions that students can take to protect their health when it comes to drinking on campus:

  • Those who go out as part of a group and stay with the same people are less likely to drink excessively.
  • Those who stay in the same place are less likely to drink too much than those who jump from party to party or bar hop.
  • Those who drink only one kind of alcohol during the event are less likely to get drunk than those who drink a variety of types of alcohol.

Researchers also note that about 17% of the students surveyed said they had not consumed alcohol since coming to college, and about a fourth of all the students reported that they did not drink during any of the eight celebratory occasions mentioned in the survey.

The new educational campaign based on this survey will focus on helping students watch out for each other and teaching students to recognize the warning signs of high-risk drinking.

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