U.S. grant aims for solution

By Cara Miller

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Students who have been "shot" more than five times in one night might be part of the 39 percent of UA students who engage in binge drinking or consuming more than five drinks in one sitting.

In order to help combat the problem, the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has given the University of Arizona a $1.8 million grant.

Student Health Services, which will administer the grant, plans to target high risk students, primarily those 18 to 20 years old.

"One or two drinks is not a problem for most people," said Koreen Johannessen, director of Health Promotions and Preventative Services. "But when you get into four or five or six, then there may be some consequence."

Johannessen pointed out increases in fighting and sexual interaction as possible results of heavy drinking.

"It's a big problem in that all sorts of things happen at that level," she said. "There are visible consequences as well as subtle ones. People who drink at that level and drink often miss more classes and get poorer grades and are probably not able to retain information as well."

Jay Altschuler, a marketing senior, said he and his friends have been binge drinkers at one time or another.

"It usually happens at parties or just hanging out with a couple of friends," he said.

Altschuler cited one extreme example of his friend's 21st birthday.

"He had 12 too many shots," he said. "By the end of the night he couldn't even speak, he didn't know his name, he didn't know anything. We had to keep him propped up."

These are just the sort of situations and images Johannessen wants to dis-


"I think a lot of students sense or believe that there is heavier drinking on campus than there really is," she said. "But in reality most people are not involved in drinking at this level."

Johannessen used the example of a drunk person at a party to illustrate her point.

"If there are 20 people at a party and one is really drunk and dancing with a lampshade, you pay attention to that person and not the other 19," she said. "So you get the idea that everyone in college is drinking."

Johannessen wants to develop a media campaign to get in touch with the real facts and bring the heavy use rate down. She also plans on using the grant for two alcohol awareness programs.

Diana Bermudez, a resident assistant at the Apache-Santa Cruz Residence Hall, said while she believes these programs are good, they may not be particularly effective.

"I think it needs to be addressed but I don't know if by the time they get to college, we can do anything about it," she said.

Altschuler, who said he drank five nights a week his sophomore year, agreed.

"I think if it reaches one person it's helpful, but I can't really see it as being much of an influence," he said. "I think eventually most people just mature out of it. I know I've matured out of that stage."

Bermudez had other suggestions.

"I think the whole problem originates from the way we grow up in society," she said. "With the age limit, drinking becomes something to show off."

She said some of her residents who are going to go drink flaunt it beforehand.

"They show their friends their fake IDs and tell them how much they are going to drink," she said.

In order to combat these attitudes, Johannessen said she will also use student peer groups to give students a feeling that there is an alternative choice.

"With these groups we hope others will feel empowered to make a comfortable choice about how much they drink and not drinking more than they are comfortable with," she said.

"There are some that will do it and there are some that don't. It's kind of the extremes," Bermudez said.

Student Health Services will also examine other substance abuse problems. According to the same survey, 15 percent of students have used marijuana in the last 30 days. But Johannessen emphasizes that while there is some drug use, alcohol abuse is the more significant problem.

"The fact that everyone is drinking is a college myth, but it is not a myth that when they drink they get into trouble," she said. "That's a reality."

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