Binge Drinking

IT HAS BEEN almost 50 years since Straus and Bacon (1953) first reported that alcohol on college campuses presented problems to college and university administrators.

More recently, in 1989, a survey found that more than 67% of college presidents rated alcohol misuse to be a “moderate” or “major” problem on their campuses (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990).

More to the point, college presidents described alcohol misuse as the single greatest threat to the quality of campus life. This concern has not diminished since the passage of the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act of 1986 and its Amendments of 1989, as evidenced by media reports that have inundated the public of sexual assaults, campus violence, personal injury and deaths where alcohol was cited as a factor in the incidents.

Researchers report that approximately 44% of full-time students at 4-year institutions engage in “binge” or heavy episodic drinking patterns (Wechsler et al., 1994) as do 45.6% of full- and part-time students at 2- and 4-year institutions (Presley et al., 1998).

In addition, the Monitoring the Future Study (Johnston et al., 1998a) reported that there have been some notable increases in illicit drug use among American junior and senior high school students since 1992. Many of these students will attend college within a few years and will bring these difficulties with them.

For years, one response that college and university officials offered regarding drinking on campus was that alcohol use and even misuse was a developmental rite of passage for students and that, if left alone, these students would pass through these stages of involvement with alcohol without great injury or harm (Jessor and Jessor, 1975). More recently, institutions of higher education have focused on education and intervention strategies oriented to individual students (Wallack and DeJong, 1995).

This response has reflected the view that those who experience problems do so because of some genetic or characterological deficit, and if ignorance were removed about the effects and dangers of alcohol use or the enforcement of laws and policies, problematic alcohol use would diminish. But, as former deputy drug czar Herbert Kleber stated so clearly, “Education is the cure to the extent that ignorance is the disease” (personal communication, 1989). Here we are more than 10 years later, and we have not “cured” the problem, despite numerous educational programs.