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Forty-nine percent of full-time college students binge drink or abuse prescription and illegal drugs, according to a new report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
The report surveyed 2,000 students and 400 administrators on various American college campuses and found that 1.8 million college students “met the medical criteria for substance abuse and dependence.” The estimate totals close to 23 percent of students, which is nearly triple the proportion in the general population.
The report is the result of more than four years of research, surveys, interviews and focus groups. It is considered the most extensive examination ever undertaken of substance abuse on U.S. college campuses.
“What (this report) is saying is that the trend is toward dependence,” said Stephen Bentley, coordinator of substance abuse services at CU’s Wardenburg Health Center. “But it’s relatively rare that I would see a student who is genuinely dependent.”
According to the report released on March 15, there was no decline in the proportion of students who drink and binge drink between 1993 and 2005. The amount of excessive drinking and rates of drug abuse increased considerably.
During that period, the number of students abusing opioids, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, increased 343 percent. There was also a 450 percent increase in the proportion of students abusing tranquilizers such as Xanax and Valium.
The report also found an increase of 25 percent in the number of students who drink on 10 or more occasions in a month. The number of students who use marijuana daily more than doubled.
“I know people who abuse drugs and alcohol, and some have dependencies and some just do it recreationally,” said Jessica Mosnik, a sophomore International Affairs major. “But those who are dependent is comparatively less than half.”
CUPD spokesman Brad Wiesley said this generation of college students tends to drink more heavily than previous generations.
“It seems to me that we’re seeing more people that have had too much to drink. And we’re seeing more people die from alcohol consumption than in the past,” Wiesley said.
“But there isn’t just one individual factor contributing to this,” he said.
Robert Maust, chairman of CU’s Standing Committee on Substance Abuse, said the amount of alcohol available to students may contribute to the problem.
“The rate of growth in outlets with liquor licenses has grown 4.4 times faster than the rate of growth of the population and enrollment at the university,” Maust said.
Maust also said he believes CU has a higher level of binge drinking than the national average.
“A 1993 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that 44 percent of American college students met the criteria for the definition of binge drinking. But the number of CU students who met the same criteria was upwards of 55 to 65 percent,” Maust said.
There is widespread disagreement on a universal definition of binge drinking among health care professionals. According to the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, “binging” is the consumption of 5 or more drinks for a male or 4 or more drinks for a female in about 2 hours, more than once in a two-week span.
Maust said binge drinking does not necessarily constitute a dependency problem.
“Heavy drinking tends to mask when someone actually has an alcohol dependency problem.”
Some students choose to abstain from drugs and alcohol altogether.
“A few of my friends use recreationally,” said Steve Shaw, a junior biochemistry major. “But some of my friends don’t use drugs or alcohol at all.”
Contact Campus Press staff writer Tim McAvoy at email@example.com.