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Springtime needn't be drinking time

Oregon’s weather’s been glorious for weeks, so you can’t blame students if they’ve caught spring fever.

But for too many young people, springtime means party time, and the risks associated with booze and binge drinking are immense.

Even though it’s illegal for those under 21 to purchase alcohol in Oregon, alcohol remains the most widely used substance among young people.

In Washington County, more than 15 percent of 11th graders in Washington County reported binge-drinking during the past month — meaning they drank five or more alcoholic drinks in a row within a couple of hours.

The numbers soar on college campuses where “shots,” “pre-gaming” and binge parties are common. About 80 percent of students drink, and about 40 percent of students binge drink, according to several national surveys.

The numbers are similar in Oregon. For example, 39 percent of University of Oregon students report at least one episode of consuming five or more drinks in the past two weeks.

The truth is, not every college student drinks, and not everyone who drinks alcohol binge-drinks. But for those who accept binge drinking as mandatory for a “great party,” the consequences can be horrific. Binging can put students in a position they never thought they’d be in, doing things they never could imagine doing.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), more than 1,800 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related accidents, including car crashes, and 110,000 students are arrested annually for alcohol-related violations such as public drunkenness or driving under the influence.

The link between alcohol consumption and sexual assault on campuses is clear. Nine of every 10 reported sexual assaults on campuses involve alcohol.

According to the NIAAA, 400,000 college students annually have unprotected sex, and more than 100,000 students reported being too intoxicated to know if they consented to sex.

A University of Wisconsin study found that 50 percent of college students who drink report blackouts, resulting in one out of eight emergency room visits that involve students. Blackouts from binging cost the average large university about half a million dollars for emergency room visits.

The NIAAA says that annually, 600,000 college students are injured while under the influence of alcohol, and 30,000 students need treatment due to alcohol overdoses.

Drinking also robs the campus of its sense of community.

When a student dies, fellow students mourn. But who cared during the party the night before? Where’s the sense of mutual responsibility?

It’s time to return to the tried-and-true meaning of fellowship on campus and in our communities — accountability for our own behavior while looking out for the welfare of others.

The good news is, students are beginning to realize that binge drinking runs counter to learning. The 49th American Freshman study, released in February, reported the lowest rates of alcohol use in 30 years among first-year college students. More than 40 percent said they don’t party at all. These students, who grew up during the economic downturn, said they are more interested in working toward financial and educational success.

Bacchusnetwork.org offers colleges a wealth of ideas for safe activities, including the “Be a Buddy” campaign. Students sign up to be a sober friend and pledge to watch out for a friend’s personal safety. The site includes a pledge form and ideas for alcohol-free study breaks, such as mud volleyball, midnight basketball and pool parties.

Other good sources are mystudentbody.com and collegedrinkingprevention.gov.

Most important, encourage students to take care of themselves, to be safe and aware, and to look out for their buddies. And remind them to ask for help if they or someone they know are using drugs or alcohol, and is having a difficult time stopping.

Andrew Mendenhall, M.D., is medical director of Hazelden in Beaverton.

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  • 28 May 2015

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