Knowing when to stop

Bradley McCue. Leslie Baltz. Scott Kreuger.

All college students. All died after binge drinking.

McCue died after downing 24 shots of liquor as part of a drunken celebration of his 21st birthday at Michigan State University. In November 1997, 21-year-old Baltz consumed too much alcohol before a pregame football party at the University of Virginia, fell down a flight a stairs and suffered a fatal blow to her head. In late 1997, Massachusetts Institute of Technology freshman Scott Kreuger drank too much alcohol at a fraternity party, fell into a coma and died three days later.

With facts like these, one might think this would be a deterrent to the college student. However, researchers say that isn’t the case. The major reason? Peer pressure.

“Peer pressure is big,” said Jack Darkes, a USF professor who specializes in alcohol studies. “Especially among freshmen. For them, it’s the first time they have been outside the family. They don’t have the structure they’re used to. Students tend to think that their peers are drinking a lot, even though they really may not be. They think that’s what students are supposed to do.”

However, for most students, the consequences of binge drinking are unfamiliar territory. While the deaths of McCue, Baltz or Kreuger may seem rare, it is always a distinct possibility — even here at USF.

Stories like these three students have become widespread in recent years and have caused colleges across the nation to look at binge drinking.

Colleges struggle to deal with the influx of alcohol-related injuries and deaths, yet students continue to drink. According to a Harvard School of Public Health Binge Drinking on Campus national study that was published March 2000, the national levels, of what researchers of the study call “binge drinking,” has remained a constant 44 percent throughout the decade. In Harvard’s 1993 survey, they state that in almost one-third of colleges, more than half the students were binge drinking during the two weeks prior to the survey. Frequent binge drinkers(students who binge three or more times in a two week period) rose by almost 3 percent since 1993.

In most cases, short-term problems follow after a night of binge drinking. However, long-term problems with family or friends may occur, as well.

“If one engages in drinking alcohol, it affects others who aren’t drinking at all,” Darkes said. “The people who don’t get talked about are the roommates and family (members). For example, when your roommate comes home (drunk), he will turn on the stereo, raid the fridge or turn on the lights. There are secondary consequences.”

Even the exact definition of binge drinking is controversial. Over the years, binge drinking has been defined as “five or more drinks consumed in a row for men, and four or more drinks consumed in a row for women,” according to Harvard’s study. However, does drinking five or more beers in one night constitute as binging? Not exactly.

“The truth is, it’s hard to define,” Darkes said. “There is some controversy involved with binge drinking. The idea of binge drinking is organized in how much alcohol is consumed.”

Many pundits point to fraternities as an underlying cause of binge drinking on college campuses across the nation. According to a report in The Globe Magazine, published in 1999, Benjamin Davies Wynne, a 20-year-old Louisiana State University student, died from an alcohol overdose during his initiation into an LSU fraternity in the autumn of 1997. Before the end of 1997, students at four more universities had died of alcohol poisoning that resulted from binge drinking. In the wake of these deaths, college administrators began to enforce new rules.

At Michigan State, President Peter McPherson decided to make the parking lot outside of Spartan Stadium alcohol-free. Florida State University, University of Iowa and the University of Colorado have all banned fraternity drinking. National fraternities Sigma Nu and Phi Delta Theta have placed a ban on chapter house drinking that went into effect July 1, 2000. Even here at USF, fraternities crack down on underage drinking.

“With any kind of social gathering affiliated with our fraternity, there’s no underage drinking allowed,” Anson Dias, a member of Alpha Kappa Psi, said. “We have policies set up against that.”

Even with research, facts and studies, binge drinking continues to be a problem. Peer pressure being part of the problem may lead to misconceptions that haunt students, as well.

“One reason why students drink is that they think they’re invincible,” Darkes said.

“You don’t think it can happen to you and that you’re smarter than that. When people drink they only think of the good things that come out from drinking rather than the bad.”

Prevention of alcohol problems can help combat binge drinking,and with the help of friends one can be safer.

“If you have someone to watch after you, binge drinking can be done safely,” junior Todd Dunn said.

Contact Thomas Carriganat