More college women drinking to get drunk

June 08, 1994|By New York Times News Service

The number of college women who drink abusively has tripled in the past 20 years, to the point that as many of them as college men engage in drinking to get drunk, according to a Columbia University study released yesterday.

The study, conducted by the university's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, said that 35 percent of the college women polled last year said they drank to get drunk, compared with 10 percent in 1977. The study did not report how often college women engaged in this type of drinking.

"We must respond to this wake-up call," said Judge Pamela Ann Rymer of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a member of the 17-member commission that produced the report for the Columbia center. "It is a calling critical enough to engage us all."

The findings themselves were not surprising to college and university administrators, who said studies have indicated that drinking by all college students is very high compared with people of the same age in the work force.

Anecdotal evidence has also been mounting that college women are drinking more often and drinking more abusively for a variety of reasons.

College administrators said younger women are enjoying the freedom of relaxed social mores made possible by the women's movement.

In addition, college women themselves have said they drink to relieve the pressure they feel to succeed and to fit into campus life, in which alcohol remains very much a fixture despite aggressive efforts by the institutions to ban alcohol from dormitories and campus pubs and events.

"This clearly confirms what all of us are reporting," said Thomas G. Goodale, senior vice president for student affairs at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and a national expert on alcohol abuse among college students. "This report lends credibility to the problem and gives us an agenda to follow, which was missing before."

Indeed, the study recommends that in addition to being required to report graduation and student dropout rates and campus crime statistics, colleges and universities be forced to report under federal law whether substance abuse was the cause for rape or other crimes.

The study also said that colleges should be forced to do these things: establish implicit campus policies about alcohol use; offer a full range of prevention and outreach programs for alcohol abusers; and ban the advertising and promotion of alcohol in campus publications and at college-sponsored events.

The Columbia study found that the increased rate of drinking by women led to high percentages of rape, violence and accidents. It said, for instance, that 90 percent of all reported campus rapes occurred when alcohol had been used by either the assailant, the victim or both. And 60 percent of college women diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease such as herpes or AIDS were drunk at the time of infection.

"This isn't a question of students having a few on Saturday night," said Jeffrey Merrill, the Columbia center's vice president for policy and research who oversaw the two-year study.

"It's about the violence and the rape and the highway accidents and the unplanned pregnancies and AIDS, all of which are highly correlated with the abuse of alcohol."

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