Binge drinking is a pervasive and dangerous part of American University campus culture
Despite protective factors, the difference between AU and national averages is staggering
As a college student, it seems like someone is always throwing up from drinking too much. Whether it’s that random girl on my floor or a friend from class, someone is always pushing their limits. Sometimes, it’s a one-night issue. The person just drank faster or more than they should have. But sometimes, someone is regularly drinking too much, too fast and putting themselves at risk. The first few months of the school year were filled with flashing red and blue lights on the Letts-Anderson quad.
Empower AU and “Think About It” discussed binge drinking at length with the class of 2021. Most of us brushed the lessons off or ignored them for being too dramatic, but there are still plenty of people binge drinking. Either the lesson didn’t stick, or they choose to binge. Whatever the case, AU has a culture of heavy drinking, whether students recognize it or not.
According to Pritma “Mickey” Irizarry, director of the Student Wellness Center, data from the spring 2015 National College Health Assessment (the next iteration of the survey is now available to a random selection of students) says binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in one sitting. When asked if they had participated in this behavior in the last two weeks, 43.9 percent of AU students said they had, Irizarry said. Nationally, 33.1 percent of students reported binge drinking at least once within the last two weeks.
“It’s possible AU could have even higher rates of binge drinking on campus, because men typically drink more than women; the survey percentage of respondents was lower than AU’s actual percentage of men,” Irizarry said.
Obviously, the difference between the national average and AU is staggering. AU students also drink alcohol regularly at higher rates. In fact, 76 percent of AU students drink regularly compared to a 60 percent national rate. Why AU has these issues is murky, however.
“There are different risk factors, and some are protective while some aren’t,” Irizarry said.
Protective factors are characteristics of a university that would help curb heavy drinking, as oppose to risk factors that may increase heavy drinking. For AU, protective factors such as lack of a football team and off campus Greek houses don’t seem to help.
“More homogenous schools typically have higher rates of alcohol use, and AU is majority white institution which could contribute,” Irizarry said.
Gender balance on campus also usually helps lower rates of campus binge drinking, but “that doesn’t seem to help our numbers,” Irizarry said.
AU has only slightly higher rates of mental health issues on campus, but that tends to have a small correlation nationally, Irizarry said. Overall, with the many factors that can be used to determine why a school has high drinking rates, AU doesn’t have a definitive answer.
“These factors, and some we may not be aware of, are coming together in a perfect storm to create these high numbers,” Irizarry said.
Whatever the cause, this is a real issue students have to deal with. The Wellness Center and Office of Campus Life recognize the seriousness of the issue. There is a plan for starting a task force using a model similar to the Sexual Assault Working Groups in the fall of 2018. Apart from administration taking this more seriously, students have to take some of the responsibility.
I don’t think drinking is an inherently bad thing. But when students binge drink, they put themselves and those around them at risk. Having a good time at a party isn’t worth a trip to the hospital or even just throwing up all night. Binge drinking is part of the campus culture. It’s up to students to try and change it. Whether that’s encouraging people to stay in their limits or safer drinking habits like eating beforehand, this needs to be peer-to-peer. Students may be tired of hearing the same message over and over from the school, but we need to say it to each other too. The student life experience should be more than blacking out every weekend.
For students who were randomly selected to answer the National College Health Assessment survey this year, I would encourage you take the time to answer it. The current information on binge drinking is three years old, and it’s important to know what is happening on campus now. The Wellness Center can only do so much without a high response rate. Solving the problem is much more difficult when there’s little information.
Binge drinking is a pervasive and dangerous part of university culture in the United States. AU is no exception. It is time that we actually practice the safe drinking habits we’ve been taught. It is time to do more to change the culture.
Samantha McAllister is a freshman in the School of International Service and a columnist for The Eagle.