Huguely Trial Highlights Alcohol Abuse At Universities

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — — There’s little question that George Huguely V, the former University of Virginia student on trial for murder, had a problem with alcohol.

He had been arrested twice for drinking-related infractions, one of them violent, in his early 20s. And he admits to consuming at least 15 drinks — and likely had more, witnesses said — the day he confronted Yeardley Love at her off-campus apartment in 2010, assaulting her so severely she later died, according to prosecutors.

But trial testimony over the past two weeks from witnesses, most of them former U.Va. students, has repeatedly shown that Huguely, now 24, was part of a college culture where some young people drink before working on papers, “pregame” before going to bars and drink to get drunk almost every time.

“It’s just an epidemic” nationwide, said Mike Gimbel, who runs a substance abuse education program, based at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, for athletes and Maryland students. He gave a presentation at Love’s alma mater, the Notre Dame Preparatory School, after her death.

The alcohol abuse starts in high school, with kids imbibing on the weekends, and frequently grows out of control once they’re out from under their parents’ supervision, prevention experts said. They added that shows like MTV’s “Real World” and “Jersey Shore” and annual lists of top party colleges add fuel to the fire, feeding an impression that everyone gets wasted all the time.

That perception is actually worse than the reality, according to national drinking data. And that’s part of the problem, treatment professionals said, because moderate drinkers feel pressure to keep pace with the so-called party animals.

Alcoholic exploits make for good gossip, and they tend to spread fast and wide, said Susan Bruce, director of the Gordie Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, which is based on the Charlottesville campus and which studies trends throughout the country. Excessive drinking “seems normal,” she said, “because it’s dramatic and it gets a lot of attention and it makes it sound like everyone’s doing it.”

While it’s not everyone, it’s still a lot. Roughly 80 percent of college students drink, and half of them “engage in heavy episodic consumption,” also known as binge drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Combine that with the negative consequences — increased risks for violence and sexual assault, class failures, arrests, injuries and embarrassment — and some educators are now cautioning against sending teens away to school, where they can’t be easily watched over.

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