Frankfort, KY – A program aimed at reducing binge drinking among college students is showing positive results at the University of Alabama. And as Kentucky Public Radio's Tony McVeigh reports, representatives of the university are sharing their ideas with colleges in Kentucky.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as having four alcoholic drinks within a two hour period for women, and five drinks for men. An online survey of 1,500 college students who drink and socialize revealed 43 percent of respondents meet that level of intoxication one or two times a week. The survey was conducted by The Century Council, an alcohol industry initiative aimed at reducing drunk driving and underage drinking. The council's Ralph Blackman says there aren't necessarily more binge drinkers on college campuses, but the ones who are already there are drinking more.
"Those over-consumers, they're drinking really large amounts of alcohol," said Blackman. "And they're really putting themselves at risk."
A conference on binge drinking drew more than 50 representatives from public and private colleges in Kentucky. Howard Bailey, Vice-President of Student Affairs at Western Kentucky University, says he's fully aware of the problem, but finding answers is tough, because students don't like to be lectured on the subject. But Bailey doesn't believe binge drinkers pick up the habit in college.
"Binge drinkers usually have been drinking mom and dad's alcohol for several years before they get to us," said Bailey. "And so, we're trying to correct a problem that started sometimes even in junior high school."
Robert Mock, Vice-President of Student Affairs at the University of Kentucky, agrees. But he says colleges and universities have a responsibility to keep their campuses safe, and that's why UK has an online alcohol education program.
"And then we reach out to the fraternities and sororities, more so, because those are the organizations that have the reputation for having the parties and the events," said Mock. "And so we try to educate those and hopefully, the word will spread beyond that."
But what drew Mock and Bailey and others to the conference, was an anti-binge drinking program that's showing success at the University of Alabama. Teri Henley of the university's Office of Advertising and Public Relations says it's a student-to-student, peer-to-peer program created by students, with administration and faculty buy-in. Its slogan, which is stamped on T-shirts, beer koozies and game day paraphernalia is "It Takes Less Than U Think."
"You think you won't text your ex, and make a total idiot of yourself. And you wouldn't four drinks ago," said Henley. "And so that's the whole thing. It takes less than you think. Before you know it, you've crossed that line."
Henley says the fresh approach has students talking and paying attention to their alcohol consumption.
"Did I mention free stuff?" asked Henley. "They love free stuff! And so we were handing out things that then sent students to our web pages, send to our social media, and just started a conversation about over-consumption."
Eric Kiser of University of Louisville student government definitely liked what he heard.
"I love it," said Kiser. "I would love to see something like that at the University of Louisville. And I'm sure the other representatives from the other universities would say the same thing. I loved it!"
So did Nick Moore, a freshman at Morehead State University.
"There's always going to be the drinkers and the partiers," said Moore. "But I do think that educating people a little bit and informing them of the behaviors and what actually happens when you drink and the consequences that can occur from drinking, I think it would definitely educate people a little bit more to drink responsibly. You know, you don't have to quit drinking altogether, but learn your limits and learn to control yourself."
But in this tight economy, finding money to start similar programs at Kentucky colleges could prove tough. The University of Alabama program, with its free T-shirts, website and public service ads, was made possible through a $75,000 grant from The Century Council.