Despite Positive Trends, Binge Drinking Still Rampant on Arizona College Campuses
Responding to a survey carried out in 2014 by the Arizona Institutions of Higher Education network, 32.7 percent of Arizona college students polled confessed to recent incidents of binge drinking, which means they’d consumed five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting some time during the previous two weeks. All were at risk of alcohol poisoning as a result of this behavior, and those who got behind the wheel of an automobile following their drinking sessions endangered the rest of the public as well as themselves.
In recent decades, binge drinking among university students has consistently hovered around the 40 percent mark, so these numbers are actually below recent national averages. However, if the parameters of the survey had been extended to include everyone who’d practiced binge drinking over the course of an entire college year or even one semester, that 32.7 percent figure might have risen substantially.
Young adults who consume alcohol participate in the college binge drinking culture to varying degrees, and some college students binge drink far less frequently than others. But binge drinking is always risky and a threat to the health and welfare of the practitioner, whether he or she does it twice a week, once a month or once a year.
Arizona’s universities are no strangers to the binge drinking problem. This state’s two largest institutions of higher learning, the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, have reputations as gung-ho party schools. Positive change may be on the horizon, however, based on developing trends in youth behavior and on the willingness of the state’s colleges to tackle the problem head on and with purpose.
Monitoring a Brighter Future
Young people who drink alcohol almost always start before they reach college. Adolescence is the time when experimentation begins and drinking habits are formed, and while the college environment undoubtedly increases the frequency of binge drinking, most of those who do it were already familiar with the practice from their high school days.
That is why everyone concerned about binge drinking on college campuses should be delighted by the findings from the latest National Institute on Drug Abuse’s “Monitoring the Future” report. According to the authors of this definitive study on the drug and alcohol habits of youth, binge drinking among adolescents in the United States has dropped to its lowest level ever. In 2014, slightly less than 19 percent of 12th graders had consumed five or more alcoholic beverages at one sitting in the previous two weeks, which is the first time this number has dropped below 20 percent in all the years the statistics have been collected. Binge drinking was at an all-time low among 10th graders and 8th graders as well, continuing a downward trend that began in the late 1990s. This decline in binge drinking has already made somewhat of an impact on college campuses, and the situation seems destined to improve even further in the coming years.
Re-Thinking Binge Drinking
As teens in Arizona and elsewhere begin to turn away from binge drinking, the greater university community is taking action to push the numbers down further by encouraging more responsible behavior. At Arizona State, authorities banned drinking in common tailgating areas during football games last fall, which most see as a real indicator that administrators are serious about taking meaningful steps to control runaway alcohol consumption. This may seem like a relatively small change at first consideration, but the drinking culture on college campuses is so entrenched that it can only be deconstructed gradually, removing one brick at a time from the walls of its superstructure.
Administrators at the University of Arizona are also acting aggressively to combat the binge drinking scourge. In partnership with two smaller colleges—Pima Community College in Tucson and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott—they have launched a new, comprehensive anti-alcohol initiative that is putting ideology and tradition aside to embrace the best, most up-to-date evidence-based strategies for addressing problem drinking on campus.
Funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), they are sponsoring a number of programs that they hope will make a dent in the problem. Last September, for example, an event called the Raising the Bar College Student Leadership Conference brought student leaders from several Arizona universities together to discuss issues related to substance abuse on campus. Brainstorming and idea-sharing were the norm at this conference, and participants were unanimous in their belief that a new era of meaningful change may be in the offing.
Nationally, the tide certainly seems to be turning, as the binge drinking culture among adolescents is apparently losing steam. The most recent statistics suggest binge drinking may be on the decline on Arizona’s college campuses as well. But an aggressive approach to the problem is still the best solution, and it is comforting to see universities moving away from passive acceptance and toward active engagement in the battle against irresponsible alcohol use.