ALCOHOL PROBLEMS ...on the college campus are nothing new, but it was not until the landmark Harvard University study headed by Henry Wechsler revealed that 42 percent of college students regularly "binge," that is, drink to get drunk, that the scope of the problem was actually identified.
Even before the Harvard study, college administrators had to know that alcohol problems were at a dangerous level, based on campus crime reports. Yet spending on programs to stem abuse remains relatively low. Four-year colleges in the United States earmark an average of only $l3,179 per year, according to a 1997 survey of schools by David Anderson, associate professor of education at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
Dr. Anderson's study found that two-thirds Of all property damage, 64 percent of violent behavior, 42 percent of physical injury, 37 percent of emotional difficulty, and 38 percent of poor academic performance could be attributed to alcohol abuse.
Still, the real wake-up call on college binge drinking didn't come until two years ago this fall, when headlines across the nation told of the alcohol overdose death of Benjamin Dayries Wynne, an underage freshman at Louisiana State University.
As part of the ceremony for new pledges to Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, Wynne and other would-be fraternity members assembled at Murphy's Bar in Baton Rouge.
Murphy's was known for its student bargain buys, including "beat the clock" drink specials where some drinks can be as cheap as a penny. On the night in question, pledges drank heavily, ordering pitcher after pitcher of a concoction called "Three Wise Men," made of equal parts of 151 proof rum, Crown Royal whiskey and Jagermeister, a popular liqueur.
Witnesses reported that many of the young men were so drunk by midnight that they could not walk and had to be shuttled by shopping cart into waiting cars. On the group's return to their fraternity house, someone called the campus police. When the authorities arrived shortly after mid-night, they found nearly two dozen of the men passed out. Four, including Wynne, were unconscious.
The four were taken to a local hospital where the following day two were released. Although Donald Hunt was reported to be in stable condition, doctors had him held over for further observation.
Wynne also left the hospital the next day, but in a body bag on the way to a mandatory autopsy to determine the cause of death. With a blood alcohol level of 0.59 percent, the death certificate listed "alcohol poisoning" as the official reason for his demise.
Before the end of the year, students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and the University of Massachusetts had also died from alcohol poisoning as the final consequence of their binge drinking.
Campus crime reports, along with studies such as tile binge drinking research by the Harvard School of Public Health help to provide a picture of the seriousness of alcohol problems on the college campus, but the question persists: How many students actually die due to alcohol abuse?
Now a confidential new study begins to answer that question for the first time - and the results may accelerate sobriety measures on campuses across the country.
The internal report, done by an arm of the US Department of Education (DOE), identifies 84 student deaths in alcohol-related circumstances at colleges and universities nationwide since 1996. While this statistic is alarming enough, many college officials and even the study's authors says it vastly underplays the scope of the problem.
"This information at best provides a baseline... and is undoubtedly a far underestimate of the actual number of such deaths," says the study by DOE's Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention (HEC) in Newton, Massachusetts.
Despite its limitations, the report is the first attempt by an organization to report the national dimensions of the tragedy - and gather the number of alcohol-related deaths at individual schools. "For me the real story is, why isn't anyone reporting this data?" says William DeJong, director of the IIEC.
Alcohol-related crimes must be reported by law. Yet there is no federal requirement to report drinking related student deaths. So there is no comprehensive source for national data. Instead, the HEC report was compiled by patching together information by e-mail, numbers from other researchers, and news reports.
Without comprehensive statistics, analysts like Dr. DeJong say it's hard to know whether anti-alcohol policies are working. Some campuses are rigorously trying to curb abuse, while others are not.
To get more comprehensive numbers would mean requiring the nation's 4,000 higher-education institutions to report death and injury statistics - something at least some administrators believe would be invaluable.
"We need [the data collected]. .so we know whether our policies are working," says Stanley Koplik, Chancellor of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, which voted two years ago to ban alcohol on 29 campuses in the Bay State.
Others, however, say that reporting alcohol related deaths might be impossible since it's often difficult to pinpoint causes. Many, too, see it as burdensome.
"Any student death is a tragedy." says Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, a Washington-based college lobbying group. "But it doesn't necessarily follow that the best way to prevent future tragedies is to impose…reporting requirements. Often it's better to emphasize education."
Yet schools are also reluctant to report the depth of drinking-related problems for another reason: Its impact on their image.
"We had people e-mailing us who said, 'I'm letting you know about this [student-alcohol death], but for heaven's sake don't tell anyone I did it because the administration is trying to keep it quiet.'" DeJong says.
News accounts of alcohol-related deaths are usually reported as isolated incidents. So it's often difficult to get a comprehensive - and consistent -picture.
A recent national newspaper report on the drinking culture at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, for instance, cited three deaths In recent years. The DOE report, however, makes a small notation next to the name of a fourth-year student at the school who died in November 1997 after falling down a flight of stairs while drunk.
The notation reads: "17 since 1990," indicating that someone at the university informed IIEC that 17 UVA students had died in alcohol-related circumstances since 1990. Still, the HEC report officially listed only one.
James Turner, director of UVA's department of student health, confirms that 1 7 is the school's "best estimate" of the number of alcohol-related deaths since 1989.
"We've averaged one to two alcohol-related deaths every year for the last 10 years," he says "It's a significant number."
One mother whose child died in an alcohol-related circumstance at UVA sympathizes with the school's efforts to fight its "alcohol culture."
"The university is fighting [alcohol abuse] the best it can," says the woman, who requested anonymity. "Still, if someone had told me that every year or so someone dies on campus, I would have had to think twice before I sent my [child] there."
Jayme Wright… a youth member of Texans Standing Tall, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored group seeking ways to prevent under-age drinking, admits that the "crazy laws" in her state help contribute to the problem.
For example, although in Texas, as all other states, it is illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase alcoholic beverages, parents can take kids to a local bar and legally buy them a beer or other alcoholic beverage without breaking the law.
In an attempt to cut down on underage drinking, Texas lawmakers passed a "zero tolerance" statue( under which anyone under 21 with any amount of alcohol in his or her system will lose their driving privileges, and pay a fine and do community service as well.
Jayme wonders if her state's "crazy laws" are one of the reasons Texas leads the nation in youth alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
LIQUOR LICENSEES.. from bar owners to liquor store operators, say they are doing all they can to prevent underage drinking, but argue that sophisticated false drivers' licenses and other fake ID's are difficult to detect.
Mark Smith, who heads the Michigan Liquor Control Commission Enforcement Division, isn't convinced.
Last month, the LCC conducted a total of 418 decoy operations. Smith said 132 licensed establishments sold to the decoy, at a rate of 32 percent. Of the 132 sales to minors, 61 (46 percent asked for ID, saw that the would-be purchaser was underage, yet completed the sale anyway.
NEW RESEARCH...suggests that fears of public speaking are calmed not by getting liquored up, but by bottoms-up thinking.
To test whether alcohol could reduce anxiety in people with social phobias researchers at the University of Michigan asked 40 socially phobic volunteers to give two speeches. Before the first speech, participates were given fruit juice with vodka smeared on the rim of the glass for flavor.
The volunteers gave 10-minute speeches to ah unresponsive audience of three people in white lab coats. The researchers monitored the speaker's' heart rates and other anxiety measures before, during and after the speeches.
After a break, another round of drinks was given. But this time, 20 people got drinks with alcohol. The other 20 quaffed virgin drinks again. The volunteers gave a second 10-minute speech to the intimidating audience.
The researchers, reporting in the current American Journal of Psychiatry, found no difference in the level of anxiety between the volunteers who had alcohol and those who didn't. But the volunteers who believed they had knocked back ('I few were less fearful than those Who guessed that the performance was alcohol-free.
DOWNING A COUPLE DRINKS …of an alcoholic beverage before a meal can indeed whet the appetite, but such a practice could well (10 you in calorie-wise, according to a new study.
Whether people who choose wine over grape juice will pack on tile pounds is debatable, but an alcoholic appetizer may increase their hunger come mealtime, researchers report.
To study the effects of liquid appetizers on eating habits, researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands had 52men and women over for drinks and lunch once a week for five weeks.
They found that on days when the study subjects drank wine or beer before lunch. they ate faster and longer. On average, the diners took in nearly one-third more calories than they did when they had fruit-juice appetizers.
Researchers Margriet Westerterp-Plantenga and Christianne R. T. Verwegen reported their findings in the February issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
On each of the five occasions, the subjects were randomly assigned either no beverage, water. alcohol or one of three fruit juices: a regular grape juice high in carbohydrates; one combined with a protein mix or one mixed with cream for added fat. The meal was always the same a cold salad filled with pasta, vegetables and ham.
The salad apparently looked better to the diners after about 12 ounces of alcohol than it did after juice. Compared with all types of juice, the man and women ate more, on average, after alcoholic appetizers, the researchers found. Total calorie intake was higher after any beverage except water.
These results, the researchers reported, suggest that alcohol is the least filling of the beverages stud-led because the body does not recognize it as an energy source.
Besides that, they noted that lightheadedness that comes with drinking might have affected the subjects' ability to judge portions.
Monday Morning Report is published twice monthly by the Alcohol Research Information Service (ARIS), formerly the American Business Men's Research Foundation, with offices at 1108 East Oakland Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48906, (517) 485-9900, FAX (517)485-1928. Some of the items initially reported in this publication will be covered in more detail in The Bottom Line on Alcohol and Society, a 96-page quarterly journal, also published by ARIS.
© Copyright 1999 by the Alcohol Research Information Service (ARIS)