Study sees spring break risk

March 09, 2006|By DAVID KOHN AND ABIGAIL TUCKER | DAVID KOHN AND ABIGAIL TUCKER,SUN REPORTERS

An online survey released yesterday by the American Medical Association found that large numbers of college women engage in unhealthy and risky behavior on spring break.

More than half of those who went on spring break regretted having gotten sick from drinking; 83 percent had friends who drank most nights while on spring break. And about six in 10 women knew friends who were sexually active with more than one partner.

"The whole problem of what happens on spring break is not new," said the study's director, Richard A. Yoast, head of the Office of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Abuse for the AMA. "We wanted to probe more and see what the perspective of women was."

The survey collected information from 644 women around the country between the ages of 17 and 35. It was part of an effort by the AMA and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to reduce high-risk drinking on campus.

There were some unexpected findings. Only about a quarter of the respondents had actually participated in spring break.

"There's this myth that all college students go on spring break," Yoast said.

The survey also found that many of the women are unhappy with the way spring break is marketed. Typically, the event is portrayed as an alcohol-fueled orgy of sex and sun. Eighty-four percent of respondents said that such images contribute to an increase in reckless behavior by women.

Overall, heavy alcohol use by women on campus appears to be increasing. From 1998 to 2004, the rate of binge drinking by college women rose from 31 percent to 38 percent, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Over that period, binge drinking by college males dropped from 52 percent to 49 percent.

At spring break in Jamaica last year, young women got into a lot of trouble, said Ryan Moreland, 21, a Johns Hopkins University student who was there with fraternity brothers.

"It seems like they let loose and just don't care about anything," he said. "The women become targets and victims because at the end of the night, you've got to go home with someone."

"People consume excessive amounts of alcohol, go to sketchy clubs in strange cities," said Stephanie Leaman, 21, a Hopkins student who's seen women make out with men for money at spring break in Daytona and Cocoa Beach, Fla. "It's no wonder things happen."

Her mother, Cindy Leaman, a principal in Grosse Pointe, Mich., said the AMA study didn't alarm her because "drinking on spring break is not a real surprise," and her daughter is aware of the risks.

"A lot of it has to do with your level of trust with your own children," she said, and the serious discussions about responsible partying held for years beforehand.

Although most of the young women said they hadn't heard about the AMA's survey, several said that that they avoid spring break in part because of health concerns.

"You think of the sexual assault, rape, disease and just general degradation that happens at those beach party things," said Susana Vega, 25, a nursing student who said she has always skipped the spring break scene.

david.kohn@baltsun.com abigail.tucker@baltsun.com

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