The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday, April 12.
For parents of high school seniors sorting through college offers this month, the final choice often boils down to picturing how a daughter or son might fit in at the new campus.
Studies, sports, social life it’s all in the mix at college-decision time.
What parent, though, would ever imagine this scene: their child falling out of a dorm window drunk, or dying in an alcohol-related car wreck? Maybe more parents should.
That’s one lesson to be found in the troubling findings of the latest and most comprehensive survey of the impact of campus drinking.
The study, released last week by a federally appointed task force of the National Institutes of Health, concludes that more than 1,400 college students die annually as a result of injuries and accidents linked to drinking.
Nor are the statistics on injuries and assaults any easier to swallow: More than 70,000 students are sexually assaulted or date-raped, and 500,000 are injured in accidents and fights due to drinking.
That’s four students killed on an average day what the nation’s top education official rightly described as “alarming evidence of the devastating impact” of campus drinking.
So the study keeps up the drumbeat for remedies that can rein in a lethal campus drinking culture. Last month, a Harvard study showed that while more students are abstaining there are just as many who down several drinks at a sitting as in the early 1990s.
And when this school year started, the American Medical Association reported that 95 percent of parents viewed binge drinking as a serious threat to students. How right they were.
For every parent who reasons that they celebrated occasionally and still graduated today’s college officials offer a portrait of a much different campus.
Binge drinking, where it occurs, isn’t reserved for weekend nights. “Now it’s Thursday night and Wednesday evening. There’s a lot more of it around occasions where drinking is the main thing,” explains Graham Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University, a leader in the fight for solutions.
The NIH study points to strategies that hold promise for coming to grips with the excesses of college drinking. Many are being tested at local colleges and around the nation: alcohol-free events, individual counseling, community partnerships to stem off-campus alcohol abuse, peer-to-peer assurances that most students drink moderately or abstain.
Note, those initiatives don’t dwell ghoulishly on the dangers of drinking. Such warnings, say researchers, aren’t effective with students too young to grasp their own mortality.
But as a community, let’s not forget the stakes can be life-and-death.
© 2002, The Philadelphia Inquirer
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