The great campus-drinking debate

March 16, 2012

Defense
lawyers for University of Virginia student George Huguely said
their client was a "stupid drunk," not a killer. He was widely known to have a
history of abusing alcohol--hardly a rarity on college campuses. Huguely was
convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 26 years in prison for
killing his girlfriend, Yeardley Love, after a day of nonstop drinking.

The
case highlighted yet again the problem of rampant alcohol abuse on campus--and
the situation of friends and bystanders who know perfectly well that someone
has a drinking problem but don't care or know how to intervene.

The
data
on binge
drinking or problem drinking on campus remains grim: 44 percent of students attending four-year colleges drink
alcohol at the binge level or greater. Alcohol overdose contributes to 1,700
deaths on campus each year, along with thousands of injuries and sexual
assaults.

Meanwhile, experts vigorously debate strategies to curb alcohol abuse--and fail to reach a
conclusion or demonstrate a plan that gains widespread adherence. (Do students
need more prohibitions or fewer? Should the use of alcohol be ostracized or
normalized?)

Amid the grim data and the hand-wringing, one small piece of
good news is the collaboration among 32 colleges and universities, headed by Dartmouth
president Jim Yong Kim--himself a public health doctor--to share knowledge and
best practices and work together to reduce the
amount of binge drinking and the harm it causes.