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College Students Try To Pass Alcohol Tests
By Chuck Dunlap
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Passing a calculus test may be easier for some students than trying to pass their first alcohol breath test.
A 1997 Harvard School of Public Health study found that 43 percent of college students admitted to binge drinking in the preceding two weeks. A binge is defined as drinking to the point where health and well being are at risk.
Back in Mississippi, as college students flock back to their schools and universities, administrators and law enforcement officials are preparing for the excessive alcohol consumption and abuse that normally accompany the beginning of school.
Collegiate binge drinking has become a problem throughout the United States. The reasons behind the problem range from young adults dealing with feelings of excitement from being back with friends for the first time in months to being "on their own" and away from parental influence and supervision.
Linda Patterson, health education specialist for Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said knowing the do's and don'ts of alcohol consumption can help a person prevent and identify alcohol related problems.
"Young adults of legal age may be able to enjoy alcohol in a way that does not negatively impact their lives or the lives of others," Patterson said. "If a person drinks in appropriate amounts, at appropriate times and in appropriate places, many serious problems can be avoided. It's all about responsibility."
Responsibility comes with age. Since many college students are under 21, the legal age to consume alcohol, a lot of binge drinking and problems associated with it result from students drinking illegally.
Tonya Burkett, crime prevention coordinator for MSU's police department, said the problem with drinking on campus, especially by minors, is a big concern for law enforcement officials.
"A lot of the alcohol incidents that take place involve kids under the age of 21. We try to make students aware of the repercussions and try to head off any incident before it happens," Burkett said. "We schedule alcohol programming all over campus throughout the year, including sponsoring an alcohol awareness week. We involve every group on campus, from those students involved in Greek life to the students in the residence halls. It's a year-round effort."
Clay Bolton, MSU assistant director of student life, said although alcohol abuse is a concern throughout the year for student administrators, the beginning of a new year does call for extra precautions.
"There will always be incidents during home football game weekends, but I would say we have more problems with alcohol the first two weeks than any other normal two-week period," Bolton said. "Most of the trouble involves minors. With approximately 1,000 students -- mostly incoming freshmen -- joining fraternities and sororities, we focus on educating them before school even begins on the dangers, legally and physically, of alcohol abuse.
"Once school begins, all Greek pledges must attend a mandatory program on campus addressing MSU's no-alcohol policy and the penalties involved if they chose to break those rules. We also normally have someone speak who has killed someone as a result of drinking and driving. It's important to teach these kids early on about responsibility and what can happen if they take unnecessary risks.
"In the end, the decision to drink is up to the individual, but it's our job to make these young adults aware of the problems and educate them on the subject," Bolton added.