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Date: January 28, 1999
Survey Finds Undergraduate Drinking Patterns Remain near Norms
PRINCETON, N.J. -- A recent survey on alcohol use and abuse found that drinking patterns at Princeton have changed little over the past five years, in spite of increased efforts by the university to curb excessive drinking. Similar results have been observed at other colleges and universities nationwide. The survey, conducted by Princeton University Health Services, is the third in a series started in 1993 designed to identify patterns in alcohol use and assess the effectiveness of university programs targeted against alcohol abuse.
The current survey found that 43 percent of Princeton undergraduates reported binge drinking at least once in the two weeks prior to the survey. This represents no change from the 1995 survey, and a slight increase from the 1993 survey, in which 40 percent of students reported binge drinking. ``Binge drinking'' is defined as consuming five or more drinks at one sitting. A national survey of American college students in 1993 and 1997 found that 44 and 43 percent respectively engage in binge drinking.
In addition, 9 percent of Princeton students were identified as potential problem drinkers, up from 8 percent in 1993 and 7 percent in 1995. ``Potential problem drinkers'' are those who ``binge'' at least twice in a two week period, consume an average of 15 or more drinks a week and attribute one or more of a series of dangerous or destructive behaviors to their drinking, or who have thought they had a problem with alcohol abuse on three or more occasions. Some of the behaviors associated with problem drinking include getting hurt or injured, damaging property, and contemplating suicide. No comparison data exist on problem drinkers through the national survey, since Princeton developed the category through its own analysis of the Princeton data.
Other findings of the survey identify academic consequences of binge drinking. In the 1998 survey, 20 percent of Princeton binge drinkers reported performing poorly on a test or project and 54 percent reported missing a class due to alcohol use. These figures have improved since 1993, in which 28 and 59 percent, respectively, of binge drinkers reported performing poorly on a test or missing class due to alcohol use. However, such results are tempered by the finding, in 1995, that some students select courses to accommodate their social and drinking patterns.
The Core Alcohol and Drug Survey, or ``Core'' as the survey is called, is administered by the Core Institute, a federally funded program that is part of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Studies at Southern Illinois University. Nearly 1,000 institutions have used the survey and more than half a million students nationwide have responded. While there are some acknowledged shortcomings of the survey, including a lack of consensus on the proper definition of binge drinking, Princeton continues to use the survey because it enables longitudinal analysis of trends, as well as comparisons between Princeton and other institutions. In 1998, 750 questionnaires were sent to Princeton students; 321 students (42 percent) responded, comparable to the response rate seen in 1995. The margin of error is +/- 6 percent.
Since 1995, Princeton has implemented a series of initiatives to address alcohol-related problems on campus. These include improved assessment and monitoring of students admitted to the campus health center for intoxication, and more training for staff clinicians on how to discuss students concerns about drinking. Peer advisors, such as resident and minority affairs advisors, receive training on issues related to alcohol use and abuse, such as alcohol emergency management and basic alcohol abuse counseling. The Alcohol Advisory Group, an administrative body, was formed to oversee the implementation of university alcohol policy with respect to prevention and evaluation efforts. Other specific initiatives include tightening control of access to alcohol at events such as reunions, and developing more alcohol-free social programming, including events anticipated for a new campus life center, currently under construction.
For several months, the Trustee Committee on Student Life, Health and Athletics has been exploring the potential for further programmatic initiatives that could help reduce the abuse of alcohol on campus. The committee has been meeting with representative groups from across the University community -- students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, parents and others -- to gather their ideas, and it provided a progress report for the full board at its quarterly meeting on January 23.