Parental involvement can reduce alcohol risks to students

August 18, 2006

Last year 353 Penn State students were taken to the Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College with an alcohol overdose. University officials hope not to see a repeat of that high statistic in the new school year.

Most of the overdose cases were 20 years of age. Most of them (but not by a lot) were male. And on average their blood alcohol level was about three times the level considered drunk under state driving laws.

"Before all the bags are packed into the family van is the perfect time to have another discussion with your children about the large number of college students around the nation who will die this year from an alcohol-related incident," said Bill Mahon, assistant vice president for University Relations and co-chair of the Town-Gown Partnership United Against Dangerous Drinking.

Many studies indicate that dangerous drinking patterns begin in high school, or younger. One in five Pennsylvania high school students have gone to school drunk, according to the Pennsylvania Youth Survey Report. Fifty-four percent of the state's 12th-graders reported drinking alcohol during the prior month. These trends are consistent in study after study, year after year.

The survey also revealed a third of 12th-graders said they had five or more drinks in a row during the previous two weeks--with many of the youngsters saying they drank that much several different times during the two-week period.

Take those same students away from home and you can imagine the statistics get even worse.

"The national statistics are pretty consistent year after year and from one college or university to the next. Thousands of college students will die, will be badly injured, will be a victim of sexual assault or will end up in emergency rooms this year because of dangerous drinking," Mahon said.

"Penn State began addressing this issue aggressively about a decade ago, but even with the commitment of many people from the local community and here on campus we find ourselves fighting an uphill battle," said Vicky Triponey, vice president for Student Affairs.

"We recommend parents have frequent contact with their Penn State students during the first month or two of the fall semester. Have discussions about their activities and experiences during this time," Triponey said. "Make sure your children understand Pennsylvania law and University policies -- and the consequences -- of underage drinking, public drunkenness, using a fake ID, driving under the influence, assault and other alcohol-related offenses."

"Students will see alcohol glamorized and promoted in movies, on television, in magazines and here at the local level bars will promote their Happy Hour specials in the student and community newspapers, on radio stations and web sites," Mahon said. "It's tough for safety messages to compete with ads for five-cent beers."

"Within five miles of Old Main there are about 90 bottle shops, bars, State Stores, beer distributors and restaurants that sell alcohol," Mahon said. "The alcohol culture is a big part of this small town."

Steve Shelow, director of police services at the University Park campus, said police will continue to focus on the alcohol issue because crimes involving the use of alcohol are the most common in and around campus.

"Alcohol use and abuse are directly tied into the majority of serious crimes we see on campus and in the local community," Shelow said. "We work hard to get drunk drivers off the road and we work hard to identify students and visitors who may be a danger to themselves and others because of abusive drinking."

"Penn State offers many opportunities that do not involve alcohol for students to take advantage of beyond the classroom," Triponey said. "Our Late Night Penn State program, for example, attracts thousands of students to free activities each weekend and is a model program adopted by other universities around the country.

Additionally, this year, through the new Center for Student Activities and Programming and the new Center for Student Engagement, Penn Staters will have the opportunity to shape and participate in a variety of student run initiatives intended to facilitate more meaningful engagement in co-curricular programs, activities and events.

More information about University and community efforts to address dangerous drinking can be found at online.

National resources on this issue can be found at online.

Additional information on co-curricular activities at Penn State can be found at online.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009