Schools urged to serve the facts about booze


Student experience is tapped to teach differences in social and binge drinking

Teens and college-age youths often are not versed in the convention of ”social drinking,” instead favoring a drinking style in which they consume lots of drinks quickly.

A 2013 Harvard School of Public Health survey of 119 U.S. colleges found that almost one-fourth of college students drink heavily and frequently. ”Binge drinking is on the rise,” says alcohol researcher Sandra Brown of the University of California, San Diego.

That’s what 23-year-old Brandon Busteed recalls about college life at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Busteed, who graduated last year, says students who drink often do so with the sole purpose of ”getting trashed.”

For many teens, the drinking begins in high school or even in middle school. Another survey, this one conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that one out of four ninth-graders reported binge drinking in the month before the survey.

Alcohol flows freely at underage parties, says 17-year-old Andrew Abbate of Burrillville, R.I. ”It’s all around you,” says Abbate, noting that at many parties alcohol is the only drink that is served. Most of the kids he knows drink, and some of them drink heavily, he says.

Kids bring their own liquor bottle or six-pack to a party. In some cases, legal-age siblings or other adults buy the booze for them, Abbate says. He participated in a teen panel at a recent Washington, D.C., meeting of Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free, an initiative formed to educate the public about the dangers of underage drinking.

In light of recent studies that suggest a link between heavy drinking and brain damage among teens and young adults, parents could find themselves in a tough spot when dealing with the issue.

”Nobody thinks we should go out and tell teenagers to drink,” says Robert Butterworth, a psychologist to children and adolescents in Los Angeles. ”But we just have to be so careful when we talk about these studies,” he says. ”A while back we had one study that said if you drink a little bit every day, you’ll live longer.”

The back-and-forth nature of the scientific method can be confusing, Butterworth says, adding that future studies could reverse or modify current findings. ”I do a lot of evaluations of kids,” Butterworth says. ”We know that the youngsters who have the worst time are those who have been strictly forbidden to have even a sip at home, and when they get some freedom, they rebel.”

Busteed thinks schools should do more to include alcohol education in the curriculum. His company, Outside the Classroom (www.outsidetheclassroom .com), is developing an online course that presents the facts on alcohol consumption to college students.