Friday, October 24, 2008

Survey: Alcohol abuse remains problem at UConn

STORRS, Conn. --One of every four University of Connecticut students say they have blacked out from heavy drinking during Spring Weekend festivities, according to a new survey.

The review, conducted by UConn's Center for Survey Research and Analysis, also says two of every five students surveyed say they got "severely drunk" during the annual party.

Some UConn officials said they were shocked by the findings, especially since the university has stepped up enforcement and offers many alcohol-free recreation events. However, national experts and some students say they were less surprised.

The survey mirrors national trends, said Brandon Busteed, founder and chief executive officer of Outside the Classroom, a company that works with colleges to fight high-risk drinking.

"That is a very frightening statistic, but I don't think it's too far out from national statistics, which is kind of depressing," Busteed said of the 25 percent blackout figure.

The university's Department of Wellness and Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Services commissioned the survey to gauge what students want out of Spring Weekend, and how UConn can make it safer and more memorable for them.

The festivities, which occur just before final exams, draw up to 20,000 students and their guests each spring.

Unsanctioned off-campus parties at nearby apartment complexes frequently generate dozens of arrests, assaults and ambulance trips for inebriated and injured party guests.

UConn Spring Weekend events gained national attention in 1998, when a party in an off-campus parking lot led to rioting. This year, the student newspaper's editor said she was sexually accosted at one of the parties and wrote about it on the paper's front page.

A committee examining Spring Weekend has been holding informal hearings for the past two weeks to get suggestions from police, doctors, student, apartment complex owners, Mansfield town employees and others.

The survey results come from an online questionnaire sent in March to all of the approximately 15,000 UConn undergraduates ages 18 or older on the Storrs campus.

The survey did not include the most recent Spring Weekend in April, since it was distributed about a month earlier.

A total of 2,571 students responded, with 1,709 answering the question about whether they had blacked out due to substance use during a Spring Weekend.

The survey defined "blacking out" as being conscious, but having no recollection due to substance use. It distinguished blacking out from "passing out," which was described as being unresponsive due to substance use.

Twelve percent of students reported passing out at a Spring Weekend.

"I agree that it's a shocking number," said Julie Elkins, assistant to the vice president for student affairs at UConn. "In some ways, it reminds me of folks who usually drink responsibly, and then New Year's Eve hits and they make choices they normally don't. I think Spring Weekend is their New Year's Eve."

Given the level of drinking, Student Body President Ryan McHardy said, the number of blackouts reported was right on the mark.

"Am I surprised? No, and it's unfortunate. That's the behavior I've seen in Spring Weekend," McHardy said.

"There's an expectation that's going to happen," McHardy said. "That, to me, seems to be the No. 1 issue that needs to be addressed."

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