As college gets under way, incoming students across the state are entering a world of long lectures, daunting professors, crushing course loads, new friendships and, often, lots and lots of drinking.
Though most older adults know that excessive drinking can lead to death from alcohol poisoning as well as accidents, date rape, assault, violence, vandalism and academic failure, try telling a newly emancipated freshman that.
During the first few weeks of college, students — especially freshmen — are at the highest risk of alcohol-related harm, said Michael Cleveland, researcher at Penn State’s Prevention Research Center. “We see a spike then because anxiety is high, and the rigors of course work haven’t yet taken hold.”
Parents have reason to worry. According to national surveys conducted by Harvard School of Public Health, 44 percent of all college students binge drink, and many suffer alcohol-induced blackouts.
Every year, college drinking leads to 1,825 deaths among students age 18 to 25, according to the College Task Force report to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking also contributes to 599,000 injuries, 696,000 assaults and 97,000 cases of date rape on college campuses each year.
The problem costs not only lives but money. For each college with 40,000 or more students, emergency-room visits for alcohol-related blackouts cost about $500,000 a year, according to an April report in Health Affairs, an international health-policy journal.
At the University of Miami, students describe a normal college social scene that often revolves around alcohol, which can leave students who choose not to drink with few other options.
Elizabeth Chang, a junior, said she has been struggling with alcohol abuse since high school, and coming back to school this year has been particularly hard after a summer where she felt more in control. “The school has really great efforts and activities for people, but they can only do so much,” Chang said. “On weekends and after midnight there’s not much to do that doesn’t involve drinking.”
Michael Davis, a senior at the University of Central Florida, says the drinking problem often starts with the way the college is portrayed — as a life that revolves around alcohol. “Freshmen come in expecting it to be that way, so they behave that way,” said Davis, 22, a communications major.
At Central Florida last year, 679 students were cited for alcohol violations, 49 were taken to the hospital for excessive drinking and 29 were arrested on charges of drinking and driving, according to university records. UCF has an enrollment of 59,000 students.
“At the beginning of each semester, I see a jump in the number of students transported to the hospital for alcohol or drug intoxication,” said Tom Hall, UCF director of wellness and health promotion.
The infrastructure around the campus doesn’t help, said Hall, who added that many off-campus bars have irresponsible drink promotions.
Though the university hasn’t had an alcohol-poisoning death, it has had students die in alcohol-related auto accidents, he said. “Until Halloween, it’s a pretty dicey time,” Hall said.
“When they see that [the drinking] really isn’t working out, the behavior definitely tapers off,” Davis said.