Binge drinking culture fuels risky behavior

Kate Jamison, Print News Editor

Binge drinking has historically been a part of university culture on campuses nationwide. Forty-two percent of college students reported binge drinking in the previous two weeks, according to a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism report released in July 2013.

Tulane University is constantly ranked as a top party school. Niche.com gave Tulane’s party scene an A+ rating and ranked the university No. 1 on its list of the nation’s top 1,196 party schools for 2015. Princeton Review also named Tulane among the nation’s top party schools and top schools for hard liquor consumption in August.

Cara McCarthy, senior health educator with the Center for Wellness and Health Promotion, said alcohol is readily available at Tulane.

“Tulane students live in a unique environment,” McCarthy said. “There are many bars close to campus, which makes access to alcohol more widely available, and New Orleans is known for its accessibility and relaxed attitudes toward alcohol use.”

Tulane University Police Department Superintendent Jon Barnwell said there are clear laws regarding alcohol use, but the binge drinking culture on college campuses supersedes them.

“Louisiana law is pretty clear to say that if you’re under 21, it’s illegal to have alcohol,” Barnwell said. “How well has that worked in influencing the culture? It’s bigger that that.”

Located in New Orleans, Tulane is geographically suited to be a top party school. The city holds the No. 1 ranking for “most bars per capita” of major American cities, according to a 2012 study by The Atlantic.

Binge drinking is defined as more than four drinks for women or five drinks for men per occasion.

“Frequent binge drinkers are 21 percent more likely to experience injuries, get in trouble with the school and/or police, engage in unprotected or unplanned sex, miss class and fall behind in their academics,” McCarthy said. 

The effects can be felt by those who are not participating in binge drinking, as well. 

“High-risk drinking can also impact other students in the way of sexual and physical aggression, damage to property and interruptions to sleep and study time,” McCarthy said. 

Binge drinking is often linked to underage drinking. About 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by people younger than 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinking, according to a study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 

Barnwell said TUPD doesn’t intend on using stricter enforcement as a means to end binge drinking but encourages peer intervention. 

“I think if we came out and had a zero-tolerance policy where we stop every student with an open container of alcohol and ID them, we’re not going to get a lot of understanding,” Barnwell said. “What we have to do is look more toward peers taking the lead and really stress that it’s not safe and that it’s not OK to indulge in over-intoxication.”

Alcohol poisoning is a risk of binge drinking. This occurs when high levels of alcohol suppress the nervous and respiratory systems and the body struggles to rid itself of toxins produced from the breakdown of the alcohol, according to the NIAAA. Tulane students can contact Tulane Emergency Medical Services when they suspect alcohol poisoning. 

Alcohol-related transports, however, are only a fraction of TEMS daily activities. 

“TEMS gets the image of the ‘drunk-bus’ because those are the calls that everyone sees when we roll up in front of a local bar or party to respond to a call, and there are 100 people watching,” TEMS Director Peter Haskins said. 

“Alcohol poisoning does not make up the majority of our call volume, contrary to popular belief on campus,” Haskins said. “Our most common chief complaints are orthopedic injuries such as broken bones.”

The Student Health Center, Counseling and Psychological Services and TheWELL are able to work with students to address substance abuse, as well. 

TheWELL operates a program called Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students, or BASICS. The program is specifically designed for college students and has been shown to decrease high-risk use and negative consequences from drinking. The program is open to all students. 

“The evidence behind BASICS shows that it is most appropriate for students who are using alcohol in a high-risk way and/or have experienced negative consequences from their use,” McCarthy said. “The primary goal of the program is to move a student in the direction to reducing risky behaviors and harmful consequences.”

Sophomore Katie Frank said she hopes students will be responsible with their alcohol use.

“We all like to drink and have a good time, but it’s important to keep your head on straight,” Frank said. “Remember that you’re a student first, and keep your priorities in order.”

Barnwell said the student body needs to change the culture before it’s too late. 

“We can figure out a way to change the mentality and the culture before it takes a student death to do that.”