New alcohol education program may avert binge drinking abuse

Freshman year carries a range of new experiences: different classes, new friends, and a more independent lifestyle — one sometimes characterized by, among other things, partying.

More than other schools, the University has its fair share of alcohol abuse. In fact, according to the American College Health Association, the number of University students who had used alcohol within the past month was 12 percent higher than students surveyed nationwide.

But the Office of Student Life is taking action, not to crack down on students drinking, but to prevent the inevitable harms that accompany it.

The program is called AlcoholEdu, a customized, online education course that incoming freshman could be required to take before arriving on campus. The course is approximately two hours long, and includes detailed information about alcohol and its effects on the brain and body.

While it’s just one part of a larger effort to combat substance abuse among students, AlcoholEdu is one of the most effective tools in prevention available to school administrators, said Associate Dean of Students Sheryl [email protected]@[email protected]@

“We know that high-risk drinking is a significant issue — not just our campus but on many campuses across the country,” Eyster said. “And we’re trying to do our part in helping students be safe and make good decisions.”

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education released a survey crediting the University of Oregon with one of the highest instances of alcohol-related violations among comparably sized institutions, as reported by The Register-Guard.

“Alcohol is an issue at every campus in the country. It’s in our culture,” said Paula Staight @@[email protected]@of the University Health Center. “Our approach is to educate through a harm-reduction strategy, not abstinence.”

More than 500 colleges in the country utilize AlcoholEdu, but in different capacities. The University of California, Berkley, for instance, requires all incoming freshman to take the course, whereas some colleges, such as Georgetown University, require students to take the course only if they are sanctioned for alcohol use.

Although an independent study in 2007 confirmed the program’s strong efficiency in decreasing alcohol consumption among college students, some are skeptical.

When asked his opinion about the new course, former University student Conor Ryan said that if he had been required to complete an online course about alcohol consumption, his drinking habits would have been unaffected.

“I first drank in high school and came into college with the excitement of finally being free and being able to make my own decisions,” Ryan said. “I don’t think a class — let alone an online class — would have convinced me not to drink.”

University student John Locanthi underwent surgery last summer for a urachal cyst that potentially was caused by his drinking throughout college. Today, “not even consistent liver pain has really changed my drinking pattern,” he said.

The University has yet to decide on specific components to the program. Many questions — how the course will be customized, what the cost will be, and who will run the program — still remain, leading the Office of Student Life to hold off on implementing AlcoholEdu until Fall 2012.

“There are so many different ways that we can introduce the program,” Eyster said.  “We need to figure out which way is right for the University of Oregon.”

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Deborah Bloom

Deborah Bloom