Student ‘binge’ drinking a concern

Bay City News Service
Friday August 31, 2001

A new study by the American Medical Association says that binge drinking is up among American college students, with 44 percent of students reporting that they binge drink, and nearly one in four saying they binge frequently. 

At UC Berkeley, officials are concerned about excessive drinking, although the term “binge” in itself is not used there because of its vagueness, senior health educator Aida Cerda said today. 

Instead, Cerda said, the university focuses on “high risk” drinking, a more concise, person-specific definition that focuses on the effects of drinking irresponsibly, drinking to get drunk, or drinking to a point where there are unwanted consequences. 

- ranging from the next-day hangover to assaults of unwanted sex. 

Aided by an $180,000 over two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education,the university is working on a number of initiatives to add to its alcohol awareness programs. 

“We are very realistic that there are students who drink heavily,” Cerda said. “There are also students that don't (drink heavily) and there's also students who abstain from drinking.” 

Cerda said that because of the accessibility of alcohol, what's needed is a concerted effort to curb irresponsible drinking by diverse sectors of the community.  

That's why one of the programs that the school is launching this year targets members of the schools residential halls, fraternities and sororities, local vendors and alumni in an effort to curb with the effects of high-risk drinking. 

According to Cerda, while much has been written about the effects of second-hand smoke, the effects of second-hand drinking often go unnoticed as minor inconveniences: having to “baby sit” for a drunk friend, for example, or having to clean up vomit, or being insulted by a drunk. 

The university's program has developed a way of tracking and addressing these grievances. For example, Cerda said, when a person throws up in a residential hall, residents may agree to make the person clean up after their own mess. 

Or a Cal football player who shows up hung over for practice may be told that they can't practice that day. 

“We're not telling students to drink, or not to drink,” Cerda said. “What we're telling them is that they should be able to have fun without having the pain involved.” 

Cerda said the school's approach to alcohol safety includes advice targeted specifically to freshman students. Traditionally, Cerda said, it is these students, most of them away from home for the first time, who are most likely to engage in high-risk drinking. 

Especially, Cerda said, during the first three weeks of school, when increases in alcohol-related incidents-- such as unwanted sexual advances, fights and sexual assaults – are usually reported. 

Then there's the tragic incidents, like the death of 18-year-old California State University at Chico freshman Adrian Derek Heideman, a Palo  

Alto resident, who died from an alcohol overdose at the fraternity he was  

pledging at last October 

In an effort from preventing any incidents like these at UC  

Berkeley, school officials are launching an extensive education campaign and  

are also reaching out to the community - including the bars and nightclubs in  

the campus area - for help. 

“We're not there to close down their business,” Cerda said,  

noting that the bars are part of the Berkeley community and many of the  

university's students are over 21 and may choose to drink legally. 

“It's not that local vendors are the bad guys,” she said. “It's  

not about being good or being bad, it's about solving the problems.” 

For parents who may be concerned about their student's drinking  

patterns, Cerda said that she understands the concern, but added that what  

most studies often fail to mention is that a lot of students who drink do so  

in a responsible manner, and that the number of students who abstain from  

drinking altogether is often underestimated. 

The AMA's study is titled “A Matter of Degree: The National Effort  

to Reduce High-Risk Drinking Among College Students. The study was made at 10  

university campuses.  

It calls for alcohol abuse prevention efforts that focus not only  

on the individual, but on the rest of the college community, including  

college administrators, students, parents, law enforcement officials and bar  


The study, which did not examine UC Berkeley, has these entities  

working together to change the advertising and marketing practices that occur  

close to college campuses attempting to change not only drinking beliefs  

among individuals, but also cultural beliefs and behaviors.