How to keep the party fun — and safe

Ohio University professor Thomas Vander Ven wants schools to communicate with local bars to keep students safer.

Ohio University professor Thomas Vander Ven has been studying underage drinking patterns since 2005. His latest book, “Getting Wasted: Why College Students Drink Too Much and Party So Hard,” is a formal study of the patterns behind college drinking.

Has excessive drinking increased on campuses?

We’ve had a lot of research since 1993. Binge drinking rates have remained stable; at the same time, we’ve had a massive increase in programming to reduce it. The other significant trend is an increase in the number of abstainers — those that don’t drink at all. But, interestingly, we’ve also had an increase in frequent binge drinkers.

Sounds like behavior is moving to the extremes.

That’s a good way to put it.

Should campuses be alcohol-free?

I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate drinking and keep enrollment where it is. But I don’t think we should anyway. Students wouldn’t be doing this if there weren’t positives to it. It’s not all negative outcomes: getting sick, getting arrested and burning couches. There’s a lot of bonding, mutual affection and social support that emerges from the drinking scene.

What can colleges do to make drinking safer?

For starters, we can definitely do something about the heavy drinking
that occurs on 21st birthdays. There’s a sort of cultural mandate to get
the birthday boy or girl staggeringly drunk. This is often facilitated
by local bars. Colleges should start communicating with these
establishments immediately. We also need to institutionalize and
strengthen some of the informal social support that’s already there. For
instance, we need to teach bystander intervention techniques.


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