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U.S. News

University says curbing student binge drinking

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Indiana University junior Jason Dills said he and his friends still binge drink occasionally, but he has noticed a drop-off in the campus ritual that many U.S. colleges are battling.

“There has been a decrease,” the 21-year-old Dills said of the excesses. “You still see your fair share of people stumbling home from the bars. But you don’t see people puking, acting crazy, or getting arrested.”

The 40,000-student university in Bloomington topped an unofficial list of “party” schools in 2002 -- students staged a drunken riot after a loss by the basketball team that spring -- and there are some 200 bars outside the campus gates.

“It’s your first real time away from your parents, living by yourself, and you’re meeting new people. People get carried away with it,” Dills said of the circumstances that lead to alcohol and drug abuse.

But a campus survey of 1,000 students released on Friday found 38 percent reported binge drinking at least once a week in 2009, down 12 percent from last year. Binge drinking means consuming the equivalent of four or five drinks at one sitting -- with the intention of getting drunk.

“We’re bucking the national trend,” said administrator Dee Owens, citing the most recent National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism report, which showed a steady rise in the rate of collegiate binge drinking.

The agency reported a 3 percent rise in binge drinking among college students between 2002 and 2005. It also reported 1,825 alcohol-related deaths among people 18 to 24 in 2005.

SOBERING UP

Three years ago, Indiana University embarked on an effort to curb excessive drinking -- not by scaring students but through not-so-gentle persuasion.

Every incoming student took an online course that explained the risks of drinking, what to do when a fellow drinker passed out and why it was important not to drink and drive.

Meanwhile, campus police cracked down, handing out $500 tickets for drinking on the mostly alcohol-free campus. And a new state law required beer kegs to be registered, encouraging students to ease up by steering them toward more expensive bottles and cans. In addition, bartenders were educated about the risks to them and their establishments from over-serving.

“We teach (students) that there are problems with alcohol,” Owens said. “‘Am I going to get arrested? What if I fall off a balcony and break my neck, or get punched in the face?’ Then there is the part about killing your liver. Scare tactics don’t work. We give them the facts.”

The survey by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at the school showed disciplinary actions had dropped 20 percent since 2006, and 41 percent fewer students drove a vehicle while drunk. The school invited some 5,000 students at random to take the survey online, and roughly one in five responded.

Editing by Xavier Briand and Todd Eastham

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