Alcohol Awareness Month. So here are some statistics for you.
5 college students are killed every day as a result of
40 percent of
all college students binge drink.
of full-time students between 18 and 22 years old binge drink, abuse
prescription drugs and/or abuse illegal drugs each month.
Virginia Tech, approximately 80 percent of students drink. Fifty percent
of Tech students drink less than once a week or choose not to drink at
all. Tech has always had around 57 percent of students participate in
"at-risk" drinking, or binge drinking."
percent of college students in the U.S. today meet the criteria of being
clinically abusive with alcohol.
more than 1,700 college students 18 to 24 years old die of unintentional
injuries, including car crashes, linked to alcohol, according to
federally supported research.
percent of alcoholic beverages consumed for the first time by underage
drinkers are done in venues that sell alcoholic beverages legally.
100,000 females on campuses across the country are raped or assaulted
per year due to alcohol-related incidents (a rate of over 250 every
drinking in on the rise among full-time college students aged 18 to
In 2006, 7.3%
of college students reported that alcohol use affected their individual
academic performance, almost half the number (15.6%) of those whose
academic performance was affected by video games and Internet usage.
college students reported that they had less than six drinks the last
time they "partied."
numbers. Some of them might not be true. So here are some
more, some of which may not be entirely accurate.
percentage of college freshmen who reported drinking beer frequently or
occasionally is at the lowest level since tracking began in 1966,
12 percent lower than in 2000 and down 43 percent since its peak in
percentage of college freshmen who spent six or more hours
"partying" in a typical week during the last year in high
school has declined 40 percent since 1987, a record-low level.
a survey of 1,000 alcohol beverage retailers, nearly all retailers (96%)
report using ID checking materials. 93 percent of retailers surveyed
said ID checking materials are effective in helping prevent sales to
The rate of
current alcohol use among 12-17 year-olds declined significantly from
17.6% in 2004 to 16.5% in 2005. 83 percent of adolescents (ages 12-17) do
not drink, and 72 percent of 12-20 year-olds do not drink.
2005, a college student at Chico (Calif.) University died in a
fraternity hazing after being forced to drink glass after glass...of
reporters Robert Davis and Anthony DeBarros, writing in 2006, searched
available records nationwide for deaths of college students in order to
write a report
on the tragic deaths from alcohol-related incident. They found a total
of 857 actual deaths in six years. Of these, approximately 180 were
alcohol-related and related to the person's status as a college student,
or approximately 30 alcohol-related deaths each year. Tragic, but
far short of the estimated 1,700 deaths a year reported above.
We've got dueling statistics. I could tell you
that the statistics from the first list came from well-funded
anti-alcohol groups and agencies, and then cast aspersions on them,
noting that their funding levels depend on the perception of the level
of underage and college age drinking (two different things: most of the
country's 12 million college students are 21 or older). Or I
could tell you that the second list came from an anti-prohibitionist
crusader and a website sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, and you'd pretty
much automatically assume that A-B was cherry-picking data.
doesn't really get us anywhere. Because I'm very upset today about the
death of a college freshman at Rider University, just across the
Delaware River from my home in Lawrenceville, NJ. Gary DeVercelly died
last Friday after drinking too much, way too much, at a
fraternity party. He did it fast, he did it without any apparent
coercion. And he died.
So this is
what: I don't really care about the statistics on either side. Are
things worse? Are things better? Gary DeVercelly's dead, and
for his parents, it may never get better. I'm really sick of the way
these issues get fogged with competing agendas.
MADD was a
great organization when it first started, because it had one goal: stop
drunk driving. It was a daunting task, because of inertia, a lack of
resources, and years of social and cultural acceptance of the costs of
having too much to drink and driving. But MADD, after stunning success,
has wandered. They are now much more of a flat-out prohibitionist
organization, and seem more concerned about stopping drinking than
stopping drunk driving.
I'd like to
see us stop wasting our time and efforts on ideas that don't work, that
will never work. That's why I spend time every week writing letters
against keg registration: it doesn't do a thing to stop dangerous
drinking practices, so why waste effort on it? I'd like to see us do
some things that will work.
Here are some
Samaritan" laws for getting help for underage drinkers. Some
colleges have put these in place already as campus policies. It's a
simple idea: if an underage person calls in or brings in another
underage person who is in danger from drinking, neither one is
prosecuted for drinking. Does this "condone" illegal behavior?
If it were your kid who got help because of the law, would you really
care? Look, make getting counseling part of the payoff if you want, but I
don't want any more kids dying because someone was afraid to get
education about drinking. Drinking "education" these days
consists of telling kids that it's illegal, it's bad for them, and it
will cause them to get mangled in car accidents. Then the kids go home
and see their parents having a beer, and they either get cynical, or
they freak out. Let's tell them the truth about drinking: it's illegal
for them until they're 21, just like driving is illegal till they're 16
and voting is illegal until they're 18. Drinking is something most
people do without problems, and it can be part of a very healthy
lifestyle. Drinking too much, like eating too much, can have very bad
consequences. Be honest with them, so that they can make smarter
retailers better tools. We've already apparently decided that anyone
under 21 isn't really an adult in this country; let's use that. Give
them all barcoded IDs that are all in a national database, and make it
cheap for bars and liquor stores to get a reader for them. When they
turn 21, they drop out of the database. It's 2007. This isn't rocket
science. Naturally, if we do wise up and lower the drinking age, we'd
retailers better incentives. Instead of punishing retailers for
selling to minors, reward them for identifying and seizing fake IDs:
cash awards to the bouncer or bartender who snags them. It doesn't even
have to be tax money: I'll bet the booze companies will contribute to a
fund (and probably police the program for fraud better than the
government would, too). Reward the business for not serving
minors or overserving legal patrons with positive publicity (and maybe
a tax break -- why not, they've probably cut down the costs of
enforcement, health care, and social services). It would help if
we could find a way to make it easier for a bartender to say "No,
you've had enough tonight."
Make fun of
drunks. Young drinkers need to learn that it is most definitely not
cool to get plowed. This has worked for years -- decades -- in
Europe. MADD and Hollywood have been successful in stigmatizing the
drunk driver. Let's stigmatize drunks with an organized campaign. Start
young. But please, in conjunction with the "real
education" suggestion above: let's make it clear that two beers
does NOT make a drunk!
drinking age. I've made my arguments before,
and I continue to make them. The two most
important ones in this context: get the 18 to 21 year olds out of
private underground parties and into licensed bars; focus
enforcement efforts on under-18 year old kids, where they are most
effective. Here's a quote from another story (in the Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette) about a kid who died at Kenyon College two years
ago, Colin Boyarski: "You have to ask yourself," said Jeff
Bowers, a physician and Knox County coroner. "Are we better banning
alcohol on campus and forcing kids to go off campus, or are
we better putting them in an environment where we can teach them
about drinking responsibly? I don't know the answer." At least
he's thinking about it.
serious science on drinking. Way too much of it is junk science
right now. Don't sponsor research aimed at headlines, don't sponsor
research that reaches its conclusion before the experiment is designed.
The purpose of research should be to expand knowledge, not support an
I didn't want
to put any suggestions in this list that were not concrete, but one does
come to mind: be more skeptical of statistics. The "more
than 1,700 college students die each year in alcohol-related
accidents" is one of the most egregious examples of unsupportable
statements that get picked up and used over and over. But scary
statistics get reported.
Why? Good news
sell papers. That link describes a "sting" operation done
by the American Medical Association on this with two different press
releases, one detailing a study that found elevated rates of cancer in
nuke plant workers, the other detailing a study that found no elevated
rates of cancer in hundreds of thousands of people who lived near nuke
plants. The second study was hardly noticed, the first made headlines. Be
skeptical of what you read.
I've got for now. This is a very serious issue, and as such, one
that deserves a lot more serious attention than we're affording it.
Let's work on some real solutions to the problem that acknowledge that
moderate drinking is both legal and acceptable, and stop trying to lard
up the discussion with hysteria and anti-alcohol neo-Prohibitionism.
People are dying. That's more important than scoring points, grant
money, or sales.