Alcohol study is 'boosting drinking'

October 6, 2000

Cautionary stories about binge drinking by university students in the United States have had an unintended effect - they may be making students drink even more, according to a coalition of 21 higher education associations.

In a dispute over semantics, the coalition has urged administrators, government officials and the media to stop using the term "binge drinking" because they fear that this may actually cause students to believe that it is normal to consume a large amount of alcohol in a short time.

At issue is a widely cited annual study by the Harvard University School of Public Health, which defines "binge drinking" as the act of consuming six drinks in a single sitting for a man or five drinks for a woman. By those measures, the Harvard study found that 44 per cent of US students engage in "binge drinking".

But the Inter-Association Task Force on Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse Issues, made up of organisations representing universities, said the term "binge drinking" should be used to describe a "prolonged (usually two days or more) period of intoxication".

Drew Hunter, head of the taskforce, said: "For several years now, the term itself has served to lump an artificially large portion of students in what is widely understood as problematic and even dangerous behaviour." He noted that a national email survey found that students define "binge drinking" as consuming eight or more drinks at one time.

Two related reports found that alcohol-related arrests at US universities rose 24.3 per cent in 1998, the most recent year for which figures are available.

A study by the US Department of Health and Human Services found that 19 per cent of teenagers drink alcohol on a regular basis. The minimum legal drinking age in the US is 21.

Cutting edge, page 38

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