Before school starts is a good time to discuss alcohol issues

August 30, 2007

by Bill Mahon

Making "to do" lists is a common activity in the days before your student returns to Penn State. There's a lot to do, a lot to pack, and a lot of summertime loose ends to be gathered.

I urge you to include on your list a discussion with your student about issues relating to the consumption of alcohol. Regardless of whether your student drinks, he or she is likely to come into contact, in social situations, with students who do drink. Inevitably, some students will drink to excess.

Studies show that excessive or binge drinking usually begins in high school, or earlier. When students move away from home, such alcohol abuse can worsen. Within the Penn State/State College community-where thousands of students are away from parental supervision and beyond the confines of family norms, and where alcohol is readily available-there is a pervasive culture of such abuse that is similar to what you find in other communities. Lives are lost or changed forever as a result of alcohol overdose, alcohol-related accidents, bar fights, date rapes, and drunken driving crashes.

Consider these facts:

-- The State College Police Department made 490 DUI arrests last year, a record high. Penn State police made an additional 48 DUI arrests.

-- Penn State police report that on a typical weekend, seven or eight University Park campus students are taken to the local hospital to be treated for the effects of serious alcohol abuse. On weekends of home football games, that number is much higher.

-- The number of Penn State students taken to the emergency room at Mount Nittany Medical Center for alcohol overdoses has been going up in recent years. In addition, the blood alcohol level for those patients is higher on average than it was a few years ago and a larger percentage of those patients are women.

This problem is not unique to Penn State. Nationwide, in a recent year, campuses reported more than 1,700 alcohol-related deaths among students. Alcohol abuse among students is a major public health issue everywhere.

Penn State has been addressing the overall problem in a variety of ways for more than a decade. For example, the University promotes and sponsors social activities that are alcohol-free. One of these initiatives, Late Night Penn State, offers numerous free activities centered on the student union building each weekend with thousands of students participating. Late Night Penn State has become a model used by other universities in their own confrontations of drinking to excess.

Penn State also has 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.

The many initiatives aimed at reducing alcohol abuse are far more likely to be successful if parents and other family members take the time to talk frankly with their students about drinking--about the serious legal consequences of under-age drinking, falsification of personal ID, and dangers of driving under the influence.

So take a moment, please, and have that conversation with your student. Impress upon him or her the serious responsibilities that come with drinking, and the awful, life-changing results that can occur when those responsibilities are ignored.


Bill Mahon is vice president for University Relations and co-chair of the Town-Gown Partnership United Against Dangerous Drinking.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009