Bingeing, Drug Abuse Up At Colleges

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Substance abuse on college campuses is nothing new, but it is taking a more extreme and dangerous form, with higher rates of frequent binge drinking and prescription drug abuse, and more negative consequences for students such as arrests and risky sexual behavior.

That's the portrait painted by a new, comprehensive report tying together a range of recent research on college substance abuse, supplemented with some of its own new survey data.

The report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, argues that substance abuse isn't an inevitable rite of passage for young adults. Rather, it argues a particular culture of excessive consumption has flourished on college campuses, and calls on educators to take bolder stands against students and alumni to combat it.

"If they make this a priority they can do something about it," said Joseph Califano, chairman and president of the center, who among other steps called on colleges and the NCAA to stop allowing alcohol advertising during high-profile events like the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

The report, released Thursday, relies largely on research that has already appeared in various forms, but assembles it to emphasize findings particular to college students.

Among the highlights:

  • The proportion of students who drink (about 68 percent) and binge drink (40 percent) has changed little since 1993. But there have been substantial increases in the number of students who binge drink frequently (take five drinks at a time, three or more times in two weeks), who drink 10 or more times a month, and who get drunk three or more times in a month.

  • Though still used by far fewer students than alcohol, hundreds of thousands more students are abusing prescription drugs including Ritalin, Adderall and OxyContin than during the early 1990s. The proportion of students using marijuana daily has more than doubled to about 4 percent.

  • Analyzing outside survey data, the Center calculated 23 percent of college students meet the medical criteria for substance abuse or dependence. That's about triple the proportion in the general population.

    Young adults in general have higher abuse rates, so a higher rate for college students is to be expected. But other research indicates that college students drink more than high school peers who don't go to college, said Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health, who published similar findings in 2002.

    • Christine Lagorio

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