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Alcohol Problems Up in College Students

Half a Million More College Students Drove Under the Influence in 2001
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WebMD Health News

March 18, 2005 -- Alcohol problems among college students seem to have taken a turn for the worse.

Alcohol-related deaths among college students were up in 2001, according to a new study. So was driving under the influence. The number of college students hurt or assaulted when alcohol was present also showed no signs of slowing down.

"This paper underscores what we had learned from another recent study - that excessive alcohol use by college-aged individuals in the U.S. is a significant source of harm," says Ting-Kai Li, MD, in a news release. Li directs the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

A greater effort should be made to curb those problems, says the study. But college students aren't the only young people with dangerous drinking problems, say the researchers. They're alarmed at statistics showing that more teens are drinking at younger ages, long before they leave high school.

In 2001, about 1,700 college students died as a result of unintentional injuries related to alcohol. That includes traffic and other unintentional injury deaths, but not suicides. The number is 6% higher than in 1998, says the study.

Driving under alcohol's influence also rose among college students during that time. Despite ongoing public campaigns about the dangers of drinking and driving, an estimated 2.8 million college students drove under the influence in 2001. That's half a million more than in 1998, says the study.

Injuries and assaults linked to drinking held steady.

"In both 1998 and 2001, more than 500,000 students were unintentionally injured because of drinking and more than 600,000 were assaulted by another student who had been drinking," says researcher Ralph Hingson, ScD, of Boston University. Hingson was quoted in a news release.

The figures focus only on college students aged 18-24. The numbers are estimates based on data from the CDC, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, national coroner studies, census and college enrollment data, and drug and alcohol studies.

Ideally, every injury or death in the U.S. would be subject to an alcohol test, say the researchers. Since that's not done, they say they kept their estimates conservative.

Many Not in College Also Have Drinking Problems

"We must remember that since the 18-24 year-old noncollege population vastly outnumbers the college population, they actually account for more alcohol-related problems than do college students," says Hingson in the news release.

"For example, while 2.8 million college students drove under the influence of alcohol in 2001, so too did 4.5 million college-aged persons who were not in college."

Some Start Drinking in Early Teens

Many teens start drinking before they set foot on a college campus. Citing CDC statistics from 2001, the study says nearly half (47%) of high school students -- over 7 million youths -- said they'd drunk alcohol in the previous 30 days.

Some high school students (34%, or more than 5 million people) said they'd had at least five drinks within a two-hour period in the previous month.

"The average age of starting to drink is declining," says the study. "In 2001, 29% of high school students reported that they began drinking before age 13."

The study recommends cracking down on underage drinking and considering higher alcohol taxes. The report appears in the 2005 Annual Review of Public Health.

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