Survey says NIU students drink more thank average

By Holly Schubert

Heavy drinking by students at NIU is greater than at the average American college, according to a drug and alcohol survey conducted last fall by the NIU’s Health Enhancement Office.

Of 484 NIU students responding to the survey, 60 percent were heavy drinkers compared to 45 percent nationally. Michael Haines, coordinator of health enhancement services, says this study considered a heavy drinker to be an individual who consumed five or more drinks in one sitting within the two weeks prior to completing the survey. This criterion is the same as used in benchmark studies nationally.

According to information gained from the study, the average heavy drinker at NIU is a white freshman or sophomore living in a greek house and majoring in business. The study also showed a correlation between the amount of exercise an individual participates in each week and the amount of alcohol he or she consumes.

Insignificant factors found in relation to alcohol consumption include grade point average, place of home residence, parents’ income and participation in intercollegiate athletic programs.

Haines said the statistics reflect the practices of younger, immature and inexperienced drinkers. “Younger drinkers drink to get drunk. In effect, they are seeking intoxication rather than relaxation.”

Haines said he could not isolate one reason for NIU’s exceeding the national average for heavy drinkers. However, he said two possibilities could be the tendency of NIU to be a first generation college, and the theory that alcohol consumption is higher in rural settings than urban.

“With a first generation college there is a greater potential to have expressions of uncontrolled first freedom excesses,” he said. Without advice of parents’ participation in the college experience, students only assume what they should do.

Additionally, with DeKalb being situated in a somewhat rural setting, there is a smaller minority population which tends to be non-drinkers, and there are fewer leisure activities to participate in, according to Haines. He stressed that these are only theories and are not definite.

One aspect of the results which Haines found distressing was that of heavy drinkers; 40 percent indicated they had consumed at least five drinks on about four separate occasions during the time immediately preceding the survey. He said he believed this was not necessarily an indication of alcoholism, but could pose other problems.

“College students occasionally do become alcoholics, but this isn’t the norm. Far more dangerous is high-level drinking. High-dosage drinking puts a person at a greater risk for harm,” said Haines. He pointed to accidents such as pregnancy, drowning and the alcohol-related deaths of two NIU students last year.

Another fact Haines said he found disturbing is that colleges nationwide have done more in the past five years to address the situation of heavy drinking than in the previous five years, but that the actual number of heavy drinkers has gone up. He said this indicated that the schools’ measures either have not taken effect or the colleges were going about it in the wrong way. Haines said effective measures would involve changing normative behavior which requires taking a broader approach.

Haines said he planned to use the information gained from the survey to develop programs at NIU to curb alcohol-related problems. One potential program would borrow ideas and practices from a group known as Boosting Alcohol Consciousness Concerning Health of University Students (BACCHUS). Haines said programs like these being planned could be “something almost everyone could get into.”

A greek peer program will be formed to address heavy drinking in the greek system. This would supplement measures already being taken within fraternities. Jeff Cufaude, activities adviser for University Programming and Activities, said, “We already do alcohol awareness programs within the (fraternity) chapters.”