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Binge drinking on the rise
By Leena Kamat
According to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, American college students have a clear relationship with alcohol either they love it, or they hate it.
The study, published in the March issue of The Journal of American College Health, found the number of frequent binge drinkers increased to 23 per cent in American colleges, up from 20 per cent in 1993.
On the other hand, the study found almost 20 per cent of students abstained from alcohol altogether in 1999, a jump from the 1993 value of 15 per cent.
"The pattern of drinking in most societies is that there is a large number of people who drink little or none and a small proportion who drink a lot," said Jack Blocker, professor of history at Huron College.
"For a country that is a drinking country, 33 per cent of adults are abstainers [in the U.S.]," said Paul Whitehead, professor of sociology at Western. Many reasons, including a large number of religious fundamentalists living in the America, account for this high number, he said.
He added the abstinence rate was lower in Canada, by about half. If a Canadian survey had found 20 per cent of university students did not drink, Whitehead said he would have been surprised.
Schools are making a concerted effort to reduce alcohol consumption, Whitehead said, adding one such measure has been not allowing patrons to pay a flat-rate price for entry to an all-you-can drink event. He said in the past, orientation week at Western focused more on drinking while the current trend included more non-alcoholic events.
"Making drinking a less integral part of activities is important," Whitehead said.
"There's only so much one can do about preventing drinking," Blocker added. Previous studies have shown one way to reduce drinking is through some form of religious commitment.
The Harvard study also discovered three out of four students who live in fraternity or sorority houses in the U.S. are binge drinkers compared to the 44 per cent rate amongst all students.
Tyler Hand, president of Western's Inter-Fraternity Council, said there were stark differences between Canadian and U.S. fraternities' views on alcohol.
"Canadian fraternities have been pro-active about eliminating alcohol," Hand said, adding two fraternities on campus were now alcohol-free houses. There was a movement among Canadian chapters to become more responsible where alcohol was concerned and some included alcohol awareness programs, he added.
The binge drinking trend is cyclic in nature and goes up and down throughout the years, Whitehead said. This is due in part to the additional steps taken to curb usage when the numbers are high and the focus on other priorities when the numbers are low, he added.