June 26, 2014 Volume 35, No. 32
University of Missouri examines student drinking
College students and alcohol consumption are closely linked in people’s minds. And with good reason. Studies show that, for many, their college years involve large amounts of drinking.
Most college-aged drinkers emerge unscathed. Their long-term health was not compromised and they go on to engage in a lifetime of occasional social drinking. But for others, the result can mean health problems related to excessive alcohol consumption, psychological and real-world consequences of risky behavior due to alcohol, a lifelong drinking problem, or a gateway to other and more dangerous stimulants.
Of the more than 34,000 students enrolled during 2013 at the University of Missouri, 86 percent drank alcohol regularly, according to the Missouri College Health Behavior Survey (MCHBS). The study sampled 3,341 MU undergraduates.
Even so, almost no students ran afoul with campus administrators or were arrested by police for public intoxication. Only 1 percent was arrested for DUI.
But concerns remain. Though binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks within two hours for men and four for women) has declined in recent years, 37 percent of MU students engage in this high-risk behavior, the MCHBS found. Meanwhile, 68 percent of male students in Greek housing engage in binge drinking.
Some research also suggests that alcohol inhibits social development. If one is intoxicated when socializing, social skills are not developing, said Kenneth J. Sher, an MU professor of psychology who specializes in examining the effects of alcohol on behavior.
“It creates a false sense of intimacy with others that can pre-empt intimacy-building skills,” Sher said.
What’s more, in the MU study, both male and female students reported in nearly equal numbers that alcohol helped fuel consensual sex they later regretted. Thirty percent of students went further in sexual situations than they were comfortable because alcohol clouded judgment and inhibition.
Though no studies are available, MU Police have said that alcohol is in some way involved in most sexual assaults involving students.
Reducing Alcohol Consumption
In recent years, the MU Wellness Resource Center, in collaboration with other local health groups, has educated students and the community about the dangers of DUI and binge drinking and has offered counseling for drinkers.
The center’s Alcohol Prevention Strategic Plan outlines ways to further reduce high-risk drinking, increase the percentage of students who make responsible decisions involving alcohol, and limit access and availability of excessive amounts of alcohol to students, said Kim Dude, the center’s director.
On April 17, 2014, MU and community leaders met for the Alcohol Summit Think Tank on the MU campus to begin a conversation to develop a strategic plan to reduce high-risk drinking on campus. The plan will integrate MU, Stephens College, Columbia College and community youth prevention efforts, Dude said.
The strategic plan is scheduled for completion in July.
Faculty and Staff Can Help
What can MU instructors and staff due to help lower high-risk drinking among students?
Dude recommends that employees create an environment that supports and encourages students to make good decisions about alcohol. Also important is keeping students accountable and not joking about or condoning alcohol consumption.
If faculty and staff are concerned about a student’s drinking (which can mean the student is self-medicating to mask depression or stress), resources are available at wellness.missouri.edu, or by calling 882-4634.
Another way to reduce campus drinking involves Friday class scheduling, said Phillip Wood, MU psychology professor.
Friday Classes Curb Thursday Drinking
For many students, weekend partying begins Thursday night — especially for those who don’t have classes Friday morning.
A 2007 study by the MU site of the Midwest Alcoholism Research Center in the Department of Psychological Sciences found that students with no Friday morning classes drank twice as much (2.5 drinks) Thursday night than those who had morning classes. Sher, Wood and former MU psychology professor Patricia Rutledge oversaw the study.
Prior to his retirement in November 2013, Chancellor Brady J. Deaton spoke to Faculty Council about the connection between Thursday-night drinking and Friday-morning class scheduling. He asked faculty to consider scheduling courses for Friday morning.
It might be argued that students who don’t drink Thursday night make up for it over the weekend. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. The Alcoholic Research Center’s study found that few students who abstain or have fewer than two drinks Thursday night engage in weekend “catch-up drinking.”
“The prospect of having to attend class the next morning has sufficient inhibitory influence to suppress drinking on Thursday,” the report said. “That is, attendance at an early morning class is incompatible with a hangover or other adverse consequences of a night of drinking.”
The reason appears to be twofold: Heavy-drinking students are less likely to enroll in Friday morning classes, and many instructors don’t hold Friday classes.
Wood said that in recent years higher education institutions such as Harvard University, the University of Georgia and the University of Iowa have implemented more Friday early-morning classes to curb Thursday alcohol consumption.
CORRECTION: Of male MU students in Greek housing, 68 percent engage in binge drinking, according to the 2013 Missouri College Health Behavior Survey. A previous version of this story misstated the percentage.