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Binge Drinking On Campus Rises

Despite efforts to sour the taste for alcohol, the percentage of college bingers stayed roughly the same through the 1990s. But by the end of the decade, both the number of heavy drinkers and the number of teetotalers increased, according a survey to be released Tuesday by the Harvard School of Public Health.

The survey conducted a year ago was third in a series that in 1993 and 1997 asked students about their drinking habits. Research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which focuses on health and health care issues.

The questionnaire survey of 14,000 students found that 44 percent were binge drinkers, compared to 43 percent in 1997, and 45 percent in 1993.

Bingers were defined as men who downed at least five drinks in a row on at least one occasion in the two weeks before the survey, or women who had at least four drinks in a row.

A drink was defined as 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler, 4 ounces of wine, or a 1.25-ounce shot of liquor.

Nineteen percent of those surveyed were teetotalers, defined in the survey as students who drank no alcohol for at least a year, up from 15 percent in 1993.

At the other extreme were students who binged at least three times in the two weeks preceding the survey. Between 1993 and 1999, their ranks grew from just under 20 percent to 23 percent.

The survey was published in the March issue of the Journal of American College Health. The margin of error was plus or minus 1 percent.

The survey's authors suggested schools could tackle the problem by looking at how alcohol is sold and advertised around campus, considering prospective students' drinking histories, offering recreational and weekend activities to replace partying and not letting classes or exams go easy on Fridays.

"Education by itself is not going to solve this problem," said Henry Wechsler, a social psychologist and Harvard researcher who led the surveys. "These heavy drinkers...don't think they have a problem."

Patrick Utz, director of the counseling center at the University of Notre Dame near South Bend, Indiana, said alcohol-free activities there are well-attended, "but kids go out drinking afterward."

"What is the way to teach young people to be responsible and moderate when they drink? It remains a very scary thing," Utz said.

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