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Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

IU student death underscores need for campus and community involvement to reduce underage and high-risk drinking

(This article has also been published in IndyStar.com.)

The recent death of an Indiana University student on the Ball State University campus shows just how dangerous an 18-year old's decisions can be.  Consuming large quantities of alcohol, and mixing alcohol with other drugs, are not isolated events on our college campuses.  Although college administrators may consider their students as adults, the fact is that the human brain does not fully develop until around age 25.  Unfortunately, the part of the brain most undeveloped by college-aged students is the area where reason and judgments are formed.

The college culture itself has been termed a culture of drinking.  College students are more likely to drink and binge drink than their non-college peers.  Over 80% of college students drink alcohol and almost half binge drink.  Binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks for males and four or more for females at a sitting) leads to numerous dangerous consequences, including injury, assault, blacking out, risky sexual activity, driving under the influence, and death.  Even students under 21, for whom it is illegal to drink, report near equal rates of drinking and binge drinking as the older students.  For these students, the question is how are they accessing so much alcohol?

The levels of underage and heavy drinking by college students call for college administrators to recognize that they cannot conduct their business of educating our young people without addressing their alcohol use. Colleges need to work with the communities in which they are located to cut off the supply of alcohol to minors and find ways to reduce the amount of binge drinking. 

Prescription drugs like methadone, a commonly prescribed painkiller taken by the IU student, are being used by increasing numbers of college students.  The latest national data indicates that 6.3 percent of college students misused them in the past month.  Prescription drugs are the most common substance used by the students after alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.  These students are taking other people's prescription medications – painkillers, tranquilizers, stimulants, etc. – or misusing prescriptions they have been given, to get high, fall asleep, wake up and deal with stress.  It's a dangerous behavior, often undertaken with the belief that because prescription medications are legal, they are safer than their illicit counterparts. 

The consequences of poor judgment by college students can be too severe for campus administrators to look the other way.  Although the students are adults in the legal sense, their brains are not fully matured, challenging their ability to make sound decisions.  We must ensure that the communities in which students pursue a college education are safe and that the campus environment does not inadvertently facilitate underage or excessive alcohol use.  The culture of drinking and the rising use of prescription medications must be tackled by all concerned members of the communities.  There are evidence-based approaches that can be implemented to reduce alcohol and drug use, including increasing law enforcement activities, restricting alcohol advertising and price promotions, and providing alcohol-free student activities. The Indiana Collegiate Action Network is working with campuses to make changes in communities that have been shown to reduce underage and binge drinking by college students.  The Indiana Prevention Resource Center (www.drugs.indiana.edu) assists communities in combating the misuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs by all Indiana residents.

By Rosie King,   10/1/2010