March 5, 2002

Report Sheds Light on Student Drinking

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Students are drinking more and starting at younger ages, according to a recent report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

The report, which analyzed two years’ worth of research, found that nearly a third of all high school students binge drink at least once a month. The report also found that underage drinkers now account for 25 percent of the alcohol consumed in this country.

“We’ve known for a long time that alcohol is a significant problem even before college,” said Janice Talbot of Gannett: Cornell University Health Services.


In the days following the report, however, the statistics and the Center’s findings came under fire.

“This may not have been the most accurate conducting of a survey,” said Talbot. “The ways they did their research over-sampled young people, but they did not correct this over-sampling in the analysis.”

Despite the dispute over how the survey was conducted, the study “was meant to refocus attention on alcohol as a major problem in the United States,” according to Talbot.

Statistics have been gathered about alcohol usage at Cornell as well.

Seventy-two percent of Cornell freshmen reported consuming alcohol in the past year, according to a 2000 Gannett Core Survey. Sixty-five percent of Cornell freshmen reported drinking alcohol in the last month, according to the same survey.

The number of alcohol related visits to Cayuga Medical Center by Cornell students increased from 65 in 1999-2000 to 81 in 2000-2001, according to Talbot. These statistics do not include students sent to the medical center on Slope Day.

“These students needed emergency care,” Talbot said. “They could have died if untreated. Students need to understand that drinking large amounts of alcohol in short times could lead to death,” she added.

Cornellians who decide not to engage in binge drinking also appear to be affected by drinkers at Cornell.

“The second hand consequences are large,” Talbot said. These effects include loss of sleep, interruption of study time and loss or damage to property.

“Students are getting tired of taking care of friends who have too much to drink,” Talbot said.

The study has also brought recent attention to the Greek system at Cornell.

“I do not think we need statistics to recognize that underage drinking is occurring in high schools and at colleges,” said Jason Conn ’03, president of the Interfraternal Council (IFC).

“This is not a Greek problem, it is a cultural one, and one that is campuswide,” Conn said.

“The university needs to make alcohol education a mandatory part of orientation week,” Conn said. “We require that our students swim a few lengths in a pool, but barely address the issues surrounding alcohol. I doubt that there are many people at Cornell who would identify accidental drowning as a larger problem than alcohol abuse.”

Suzy Nelson, associate dean of students, fraternity and sorority affairs, agrees.

“This issue is not a Greek issue,” Nelson said. “It is truly a campus issue. The social scene often lands by default in the Greek system. It is essential that we have programming space on campus and a wider range of alternative activities for all students.”

Other programs have been implemented to provide alcohol-free activities for students. Last week, Late Nights @ Cornell sponsored One Night Stand, an event which included bands and casino gambling in Willard Straight Hall. The event was co-sponsored by the class councils and Renaissance.

“It was a huge success,” said Alexa Mills ’03, co-president of Renaissance.

“Offering something late at night every weekend at Cornell is simply saying, ‘There’s something else to do.’ It’s not saying ‘drinking is bad’ or ‘we want to take away your beer,'” Mills said.

Despite alternatives, many underage students still want to get intoxicated on the weekend.

“Underage drinkers do occasionally try to get in,” said Joseph LaMagna ’03, a bouncer at Rulloff’s, a bar in Collegetown. “We have bouncers who are knowledgeable of IDs and it’s our job to make sure they don’t get into the bar.”

Archived article by Marc Zawel