CDC says Ohio on a binge, but colleges combat alcohol abuse


By Alan Ashworth - Akron Beacon Journal



It’s nothing to toast, but Ohio ranks No. 4 in the nation when it comes to binge drinking, according to a study released last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

In the look at drinking trends from 2011-2017, Ohio surged up on the list in its final year, besting all other states except Arkansas, Idaho and Wyoming.

According to the study, binge drinkers in the Buckeye State each knocked back an average of 764 binge drinks in 2017, an increase of 9.6 percent from the year before.

The CDC defines binge drinking as alcohol consumption that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08% or above. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks or women consume four or more drinks in about two hours.

The study doesn’t break down reasons for the increase, but other statistics from the CDC demonstrate the possible impacts.

In 2018, according to CDC data, 73 deaths in Summit County were from alcohol-induced causes. Add to that 24 deaths in Medina County, 19 in Portage County and 47 in Stark County.

The problem may vary from year to year and state to state, but it’s a real one that persists on a national level with local consequences.

At two local universities, traditional hot spots for binge and heavy drinking, a keg full of policies discourage underage drinking.

“We are very open that we don’t want anyone under 21 drinking,” said Allison Gillis, case manager in the Office of Student Affairs at the University of Akron.

But the university eschews a draconian approach to student violations.

“We have more of a hands-on moderating approach,” Gillis said. Consequences increase for repeated offenses.

Lisa Ritenour, director of health services at UA, said students who come to Student Recreation and Wellness Services are given a questionnaire to evaluate hazardous drinkers. The quick test measures drinking proclivities. If a student scores high, a more thorough audit takes place.

For college students, starting early is an important time to help establish boundaries for drinking behavior.

“The first six weeks are the most vulnerable time,” Ritenour said. “[There is] more unstructured time [and] limited interaction with parents or older adults.”

Last year, UA students completed 1,819 screenings for hazardous drinking at Student Health Services and 403 — 22.48% — of those audits scored high and were asked to complete the full 10-question alcohol audit. Only about half of those students finished the longer form.

The numbers are a sampling of students who went to UA Health Services for various reasons and can’t be generalized to the entire university. But they suggest that college students remain a source of significant alcohol consumption.

To help combat underage and excessive drinking, UA holds an alcohol awareness week in October, the vulnerable time when new students are moving from high school to college. Many UA students are commuters, but on-campus students are offered a menu of alcohol-free weekend activities to help keep them occupied, said Katelin Brendel, assistant director of Fraternity and Sorority Life in the Department of Student Life.

But there are other approaches the university uses to combat potential alcohol abuse.

“One thing that’s been successful is peer education,” Brendel said.

Peer educators go through hours of training, with alcohol and illicit drugs a significant part.

Kent State University uses a cocktail of programs that target binge drinking on and off campus, said Tricia Knowles, community officer for Kent State Police Services.

Kent Police, Kent State Police, the Office of Student Conduct, the Kent Fire Department and Kent State student government will all canvass off-campus areas known for hosting St. Patrick’s Day parties, for instance.

Akron has its alcohol awareness week, and so does KSU. Kent’s is around Spring Break at the Student Center. Prizes, information, and “beer goggles” that simulate the effects of alcohol are used to emphasize the dangers of alcohol consumption.

Alcohol referrals to the KSU Office of Student Conduct have been on the decline. In the fall of 2016, the office received 127 referrals, declining to 101 in fall 2017, 89 in fall 2018 and 85 in fall 2019.

Liquor law violations by students have declined from 2016 to 2018 in and out of KSU residence halls, according to the Kent Campus Safety and Security Bulletin. In 2016, 177 liquor law violations were reported. Violations fell to 100 in 2017 before an increase to 159 in 2018.

“There is typically alcohol abuse at any college campus,” Knowles said via email. “I believe that at Kent State we do a lot to try and combat that, but there will always be room for improvement.”

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By Alan Ashworth

Akron Beacon Journal

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