Talk with your student about risks of alcohol abuse

August 13, 2008

By Bill Mahon, Penn State vice president for University Relations and co-chair of the Town-Gown Partnership United Against Dangerous Drinking

Eleven percent of all the alcohol sold in the United States is consumed by drinkers under the age of 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Is it any wonder, then, that binge drinking is one of the most serious public health problems facing our colleges and universities?

Nationwide, some 1,700 college students die each year from alcohol-related injuries, and 600,000 are unintentionally injured. Nearly 100,000 students annually are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date-rape.
Penn State is not immune from such unpleasant statistics. During April 2008, approximately 70 of our University Park students received treatment in the emergency room of the Mount Nittany Medical Center for alcohol-overdose or injuries received because they, or someone that they came in contact with, drank too much. About one in four Penn State students responding to a recent survey reported they had engaged in "high-risk" drinking. In addition, each year, intoxicated students are responsible for thousands of dollars of property destruction on and off campus.

Especially at the University Park campus, the reality is that thousands of students are away from parental supervision and beyond the confines of family norms, and that state laws can be circumvented so that alcohol is readily available to under-age students.

I urge you to make certain your Penn State student is aware of the dangers of engaging in alcohol-fueled behavior. Regardless of whether he or she drinks, your student in social situations is likely to come into contact with students who do drink and consequently put themselves and their peers at risk.

Penn State has been addressing the overall problem in a variety of ways for more than a decade. The University promotes and sponsors numerous social activities that are alcohol-free. It helped to form the town-gown Partnership United Against Dangerous Drinking to develop strategies that will curb alcohol abuse on both sides of College Avenue in the State College community.

A recent strategy that shows much promise is AlcoholEdu, an online education program supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation and required of all first-year students enrolling at Penn State campuses throughout the Commonwealth. Students must complete three of four modules prior to arriving for classes, and finish their fourth module during their first semester. The program aims to help students make healthier, safer decisions regarding alcohol consumption.

In terms of participation, Penn State has the largest program among the more than 200 universities across the United States that have implemented AlcoholEdu services. The program was piloted this summer with a 97 percent participation rate, and as of early August, 5,000 more Penn State students who already have e-mail access accounts have enrolled.

Initiatives aimed at reducing alcohol abuse are more likely to be successful with your help and support. Please take the time now to talk with your students about such issues as the serious legal consequences of under-age drinking, falsification of personal ID, and dangers of driving under the influence. Don't wait until it's too late.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009