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Researchers alarmed by binge drinking on campus

An alarming number of 21-year-olds are participating in a dangerous practice of consuming 21 alcoholic beverages to celebrate reaching legal drinking age, according to a new report by researchers at the University of Missouri.

More than a third of men and a quarter of women surveyed at the university who drank alcohol the day they turned 21 reported consuming at least that many drinks of beer, wine and liquor, researchers reported in an article scheduled for publication in the June issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

“We were floored,” said Patricia Rutledge, lead author of the report. “I still can’t believe it even though I’ve seen it because it’s so dangerous.”

Of the 2,518 students surveyed, 83 percent reported drinking to celebrate turning 21. Students who had previously gotten drunk or belonged to a Greek organization were more likely to consume 21 drinks.

“I was expecting that this 21 drinks thing would be mainly just guys, but the extent to which women are out there doing this, it’s scary,” Rutledge said.

Since the study looked only at students from one university, the findings can’t be applied to the general population. But authors said it’s likely representative of the culture at many schools.

“I would imagine, at least at large state schools similar to the University of Missouri, it’s probably similar,” said Rutledge, who now is a psychology professor at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa.

Even researchers who study binge drinking were surprised by the findings.

Scott Walters, an assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health who researches the topic, said drinking excessively for one’s 21st birthday is not as common as some students believe.

“There is this lore among a lot of college students who think that’s the normal practice,” Walters said.

Some students likely overestimate how much they drink, he said. For example, some may have counted half-shots as full shots, he said.

“Twenty-one drinks is a lot of drinks,” Walters said. “Physically, that would be impossible for a lot of people, or if they did consume that, it would put them well within the lethal range.”

Researchers defined a drink as a 12-ounce beer or wine cooler, a 4-ounce glass of wine or a shot of liquor straight or in a mixed drink.

They calculated students’ blood-alcohol contents based on how many hours they reported drinking. Some began drinking early in the day and consumed 21 drinks over many hours, while others began drinking later, spreading those drinks over fewer hours.

A 180-pound male who consumes 21 beers over eight hours likely would have a blood-alcohol content of more than 0.30, the level when most drinkers lose consciousness due to alcohol poisoning. That puts them at risk of choking on their own vomit, which can cause death by asphyxiation.

Stephen Klesel, president of the University of Houston’s Interfraternity Council, said he has heard of students attempting to consume 21 drinks but has never seen anyone do it. For his 21st birthday, he celebrated with alcohol but not to that extreme, he said.

“It seems like you’re out for one sole purpose, and that’s to get hammered, which is not a very smart choice,” he said.

Robin Forman, dean of undergraduates at Rice University, said some students there drink excessively but only a few students try to match their years with drinks.

“What we really do is try to let everybody know that contrary to what they hear it’s not true that everybody’s doing it or that most people are doing it,” he said.
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source: Houston Chronicle

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