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Release: March 14, 2000

Harmful effects of excessive drinking continue, but there are signs of hope

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The harmful effects of excessive drinking continue on the University of Iowa campus and in the surrounding communities, but there are also some signs of hope, according to survey results released today.

Nine out of 10 University of Iowa students reported suffering some form of harm at the hands of students who drank excessively in 1999, a figure that was virtually unchanged from a similar 1997 survey. However, the 1999 survey also showed that fewer UI students report being insulted; fewer said their study or sleep was interrupted; and fewer said they were pushed, hit or assaulted by excessive drinkers.

Excessive drinkers also continue to cause problems for themselves, including falling behind in schoolwork, flunking out, getting in trouble with police, and injuring themselves. However, from 1997 to 1999, there were decreases in the percentage of students who said they drank to get drunk and in those who drove after drinking alcohol. In addition, there were decreases in the numbers of students who missed class, argued with friends, or had unplanned sex after drinking too much.

"These results remind us that we all continue to suffer the harmful effects of excessive drinking," said UI President Mary Sue Coleman. "It's important that we continue tracking our rates of alcohol abuse because we cannot attack this problem without being completely truthful about its dimensions.

"Still, while it is important to acknowledge the problem, there are encouraging signs that are cause for hope," she added. "We are pleased to see some reductions in both the problems excessive drinkers cause for themselves as well as reductions in some of the problems they cause for others."

Overall, more than 64 percent of University of Iowa students engaged in some form of binge drinking in 1999, according to survey results released in conjunction with a national study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health. In 1997, the UI binge rate was 63.1 percent. Both UI statistics are above the national average, which has held steady at 44 percent.

Both surveys asked students to report on their alcohol consumption during the two weeks before they completed the survey. The study defined heavy episodic or binge drinking as the consumption of at least five drinks in a row for men or four drinks in a row for women during the two weeks before the students completed the questionnaire. Students who drink that much or more have significantly more problems than students who drink less than that.

It's too soon to say whether the Stepping Up Project, a community and campus coalition to reduce the harmful effects of excessive drinking, is having a positive effect, Coleman noted. "It took

decades to change cultural attitudes about the harmful effects of smoking, and it is likely to take that long to change the culture that views collegiate alcohol abuse as a rite of passage. We have to be aggressive enough to implement solutions immediately, and yet patient enough to give those solutions time to work," she said.

"Stepping Up has accomplished a lot in a few years," Coleman continued. "We have developed a true community coalition that includes UI students, faculty and staff as well as a broad spectrum of community members. We have also taken some concrete steps to change our environment."

Those changes include the following:

  • The UI and Stepping Up are sponsoring more late-night social activities that do not involve alcohol, such as dances, movies, and Night Games, a regular event which keeps the UI Field House open until 2 a.m. for students to play basketball, volleyball, lift weights, and rock climb.
  • This fall, the UI designated an alcohol-free tailgate area for UI football games.
  • UI Greek organizations have adopted stricter alcohol control policies.
  • Substance-free residence halls will be offered to UI students beginning next fall.
  • The City Council of Iowa City amended the disorderly house ordinance to allow police to control parties without receiving a complaint from a neighbor.
  • Stepping Up has begun sponsoring workshops for parents to teach them how to talk with their children about alcohol and alcohol abuse.
  • Community members have taken measures to prevent the Englert Theatre from being converted into another downtown bar. A group has been formed to raise funds to purchase the theatre to be used for live musical and theatrical performances.

The Stepping Up Project is funded with a 6-year, $830,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The UI is one of 10 universities participating in a program called "A Matter of Degree: The National Effort to Reduce High-Risk Drinking Among College Students." Those efforts are being aided by the American Medical Association, which administers the program.

The Harvard Alcohol Study found that binge drinking continues largely unabated on American campuses, based on its third survey of more than 100 nationally representative universities and colleges. The survey, which appears in the March issue of the Journal of American College Health, found a growing polarization of college campuses around the binge-drinking issue. "Today's study shows a continuing trend on college campuses that is more strongly polarized, with almost one-fourth of students being frequent binge drinkers and almost one-fifth being abstainers," said Henry Wechsler, lead author of the study. However, Wechsler also said it was important to note that the majority of college students -- 56 percent -- are not binge drinkers.

University of Iowa statistics related to student alcohol use and abuse

 

 
1997
1999
 
(percentage of undergraduates)
Level of drinking and bingeing    
Past year abstainers/lifetime abstainers
9.4%
6.9%
Drank, but did not binge
27.4
28.4
Binged 1-2 times in past two weeks
28.3
28.2
Binged 3 or more times in past two weeks
34.8
36.5
 

Reason for drinking among students who drank in past year

Drank to get drunk

65.6%

58.5%
 

Problems reported by students who drank in past year

Hangover
74.4%
74.1%
Missed class
48.7
42.6
Got behind in school work
29.3
33.2
Did something they regretted
50.6
44.3
Forgot where they were or what they did
33.7
35.1
Argued with friends
35.1
29.4
Engaged in unplanned sex
29.0
25.0
Didn't use protection when having sex
12.4
12.4
Damaged property
13.6
15.3
Got in trouble with police
9.8
9.2
Got hurt or injured
15.9
19.2
Required medical treatment for alcohol
0.5
1.1

Have five or more of the above (excepthangover)

27.8
26.8
Drinking and driving in past 30 days
Drove after drinking alcohol
32.6%
30.9%
Drove after 5 or more drinks
12.8
11.2
Rode with driver who was high or drunk
29.0
29.4
 

Students bothered by other's drinking

Been insulted or humiliated

44.1%
42.6%

Had a serious argument or quarrel

37.8
38.0

Been pushed, hit or assaulted

21.5
18.0

Had property damaged

22.5
23.1
Had to "baby-sit" a drunken student
65.7
69.1
Had study/sleep interrupted
71.8
69.9
Experienced an unwanted sexual assault
33.1
37.0
Victim of sexual assault or date rape
2.3
2.4
Experienced at least one of the above
92.0
91.0