The 2007-08 school year was a rough one on Minnesota’s college campuses, when four young people died as a result of binge drinking. These tragedies, fortunately, prompted some constructive dialogue and aggressive action to combat underage drinking and discourage binge drinking among college students. Since then, we’re not aware of a single binge-drinking fatality on a college campus in Minnesota.
But that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away.
Each month since June 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a call to action on an important issue relating to public health. The program is called “Vital Signs,” and this month’s topic is binge drinking. The numbers are frightening, much worse than the researchers had expected:
• One in six U.S. adults — 38 million — admits to being a binge drinker, which is defined as consuming at least four drinks (for women) or five drinks (for men) in a short time period.
• The typical binge drinker does so four times per month.
• People whose income is less than $25,000, or more than $75,000, are most likely to binge drink.
• Binge drinkers who are 65 or older are the most frequent binge drinkers, at an average of eight times per month.
• Binge drinking is most common among people between the ages of 18 and 34, and 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by underage drinkers is consumed during instances of binge drinking.
• Minnesota has the seventh-highest rate of binge drinking. Wisconsin has the sad distinction of being No. 1, and every state in the upper Midwest (other than Michigan), has disturbingly high rates of binge drinking.
As if right on cue, what appears to be a drinking-related tragedy took place eight days ago. The toxicology reports will take time, but according to at least one witness, a Rochester 18-year-old was drinking during a party Saturday evening before passing out in a car. He was left there overnight, and friends found him dead in the vehicle Sunday morning.
No foul play is suspected, and no criminal charges are expected. We do wonder, however: How did these teens obtain their alcohol? A careless parent? A reckless 21-year-old friend? A clerk who didn’t check an ID? We hope that information comes out as the investigation continues.
For now, however, we hope that people will take the time to read the CDC study (available online at www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/bingedrinking) and then be honest with themselves and their family members.
It’s easy for binge drinkers to say, “I don’t drink every day, and I’m not an alcoholic, so what’s the problem?” Or to say, “My son only gets drunk once or twice a month. It’s no big deal.”
Well, it is a big deal. A 2006 study in the journalAlcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that 49 percent of drunk drivers were occasional binge drinkers, not alcoholics. Binge drinking not only can result in death by alcohol poisoning, but also can lead to sexual assaults, STDs and violent crime — not to mention lost productivity at work. And finally, there’s this fact: Young people who binge drink are far more likely to become alcoholics later in life.
So, even if you’re not the designated driver, consider stopping at two drinks. Keep an eye on your friends and be ready to protect them from themselves. Don’t make alcohol the primary reason for getting together.
More than 80,000 Americans die each year as a direct result of alcohol abuse. Don’t be one of them — and don’t be among those who sober up, only to realize that they’ve done something so horrible that they wish they were dead.