Monday, September 8, 2008

Start discussing ways to educate about alcohol

This summer, I signed the Amethyst Initiative, a statement from university presidents that invites public discussion on how Americans deal with alcohol. It proposes that America has developed a culture of dangerous binge drinking, particularly on college campuses. The signatories call on elected officials and the public to weigh all the consequences of current alcohol policies and invite new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use.

More than 120 college and university presidents have signed in support of initiating this discussion. Some support the current 21-year-old drinking age; others may want to change it. But they are united in their concern about the effects of binge drinking.

Binge drinking is a cultural pattern that differs from past approaches to alcohol. Let me offer my own story: I did not drink until I was in college at a time when the drinking age in Massachusetts was 18. I was introduced to the graciousness of a sherry hour. Wine or beer was served as part of a semester-end get-together at a professor's house. After church, parishioners would invite students to their homes to discuss the sermon over spaghetti and Chianti. Drinking was part of a larger culture of sociability and community.

That's not true today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites a report saying that 70 percent of binge-drinking incidents occur among adults over 24. People ages 14-24 are 15.5 percent of the population but account for 30 percent of binge-drinking episodes.

I applaud the efforts of organizations such as MADD in raising awareness that drinking and driving do not mix. But while the current 21-year-old drinking age may have helped discourage drinking and driving, it has not stemmed the incidence of young people who drink. We have taken drinking, particularly for traditional college-age students, and driven it underground. While fewer people between 18 and 21 are dying from alcohol-related accidents, more students are binge drinking and getting drunk before attending an event. More are victims of alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related date rape. More drink to get drunk.

Unlike when I went to college, there is no similar opportunity today to educate students about drinking because it is against the law for faculty, staff and off-campus adults to serve alcohol to students under 21. Responsible drinking is a learned behavior. We know that the overwhelming majority of college-age students drink, but we cannot model what responsible drinking is like.

Over the years, colleges have seen an increase in students coming to us with binge-drinking habits that began in high school. At Butler, we offer alcohol-education programs from the first day students arrive on campus. We remind students of the law and the dangers of drinking to excess. We issue citations for alcohol violations.

Butler has had success in reining in binge drinking, but all universities deal with this issue. It is not enough to preach abstinence, sanction offenders and pick up the pieces after a student has been a victim of alcohol abuse. There must be education about alcohol from childhood through adulthood. That's what the Amethyst discussion is all about.
source: Indy Star

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