A world of heavy drinking Binges: Across the globe, college-age men and women are quaffing mass quantities of alcohol, researchers say.

January 27, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF Sun foreign staff writers Kathy Lally, Frank Langfitt, Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Ann LoLordo contributed to this article.

LONDON -- When 18-year-old Jason Bainbridge and his rugby-playing teammates at the University of Westminster enter their favorite pub, they're in for a night of serious drinking.

They'll each start with a half-dozen pint-sized beers, Bainbridge says, move on to a few shots of vodka, and then, if there's really something to celebrate, quaff a concoction of beer, vodka and alcoholic cider mixed into a construction worker's hard hat.

"In this country, drinking is a big part of the culture," Bainbridge says. "And college students are no different than adults."

Binge drinking and college seem to go hand-in-hand at many campuses worldwide, whether in London, Moscow or Boston.

It's an issue that scares every parent in America. Once or twice a year the worst fears of the nation's parents are fulfilled dramatically and painfully, as they were in recent months after the deaths of two college students from alcohol abuse, one at Louisiana State University and the other at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But America isn't the only place where the often volatile mixture of alcohol and growing up is a focal point of college life.

Here is a look at college-age drinking in five countries, as compiled by The Sun's correspondents.

Britain

In a country where going to a pub is the favored leisure-time activity among adults, there's little surprise that drinking dominates the on-campus social scene.

"Alcohol is by far the greatest drug of misuse," says Dr. George Hibbert, a substance abuse expert at the Chilton Clinic in Oxford.

"Most drinking is done by young men between 16 and 24 and accounts for 80 percent of alcohol consumed," he says. "The tendency is to have a binge-type pattern rather than consistent heavy drinking."

At the University of Westminster in central London, Bainbridge and his friend Lisa Tiller are bartenders at the smoke-filled student pub, where the beer runs at $1.75 a pint and the legal age to be served is 18.

"Before I came to university, I didn't drink much," says Tiller, 23. "But in college, you end up drinking most every night. And people might get really drunk three or four nights a week."

Tiller says that when it comes to drinking, men stick with beer, while women favor soft drinks laced with alcohol.

"It seems to be less acceptable for females to drink," she says. "You see a girl really drunk, you say, 'Oh, my God, what a sleaze.' Girls tend to drink less."

China

American-style, drink-'til-you-drop partying is practically unheard of in China. College students drink -- and sometimes get drunk -- but usually only on special occasions.

There are no fraternities. And dorm rooms are jammed -- people often sleep seven to a room -- so dorm parties seem gratuitous.

"People in the [United] States would say on the weekend, 'Let's go drink,' " says Wei Wei, 22, a junior at Beijing University, the Harvard of China. "People here would say, 'Let's go to dinner, let's go to a movie, let's go roller-skating.'

"For most people, drinking would not be their first choice for entertainment."

Bars are geared more toward Westerners and affluent Chinese and are too expensive for most students. At the Hot Spot, a large Beijing disco with a mirrored ball and cage dancers, a bottle of Heineken costs $3.62 -- a lot of money in a city where the average monthly household income is $211.

China does not have a drinking age. Parents warn their children not to drink before a certain age. In a society where obedience to authority is heavily emphasized, many comply.

Drinking, though, is on the rise. In 1982, the percentage of alcoholics in China was just 0.02 percent, according to a government study. In 1989, it had risen to 3.7.

Alcohol consumption has risen along with the standard of living. In 1978, just 2.46 million tons of alcohol were sold in China. By 1992, the number was almost 10 times higher, 22.7 million. This in a country of 1.2 billion people.

"Drinking has become more and more integrated into the culture," says Zhang Yong, who manages the Hot Spot. "We are catching up with foreigners."

Russia

Drinking always has been such a natural part of the Russian culture that for hundreds of years police officers gently guided drunk students home on St. Tatyana's Day, a day dedicated to students.

"It's a heavy drinking period of life," says Denis Sapronov, 18. "We don't drink every day, but when we do, we drink more than enough."

Sapronov, who studies economics at the Institute of Culture in Levanaberezhnoe just outside of Moscow, says beer and vodka are the drinks of choice, and are often drunk together.

Theoretically, one must be at least 18 to buy alcohol; in reality, anyone can buy anything.

But Svetlana Guskovo, 22, who studies art history at the Institute of Culture, contends that heavy drinking is more of a problem among older people.

"Young people have hope for the future," she says. "Older people don't."

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