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"Party Schools" And The Risks Of Substance Abuse During The College Years

College is a major risk period for binge drinking and the development of substance abuse problems, and parents and prospective students should examine the drug and alcohol policies of a prospective school carefully before committing to four years of temptation.

As much as school administrators try to minimize the negative repercussions of a "party school" reputation, there is a statistical correlation between greater rates of alcohol and drug abuse and dependencies at these so called party schools than at other comparable colleges.

Substance abuse in college

College alcohol and drug abuse is a pretty big problem, and the percentage of alcohol and drug abusing people at colleges statistically exceeds the levels of abuse in non academic environments. There are a number of factors that contribute to increasing substance use and abuse during the formative transitional years out of the family home through college, but one of these is certainly a persistent collegiate culture which promotes binge drinking and recreational drug abuse.

With as many as 33% (Harvard medical school reporting) of college students meeting the criteria for substance abuse, and a significant percentage of these students meeting the more serious criteria for alcohol or drug dependence, addictions professionals acknowledge that college substance use represents a significant challenge to health.

When Choosing A College…

While the Princeton Review rankings are unlikely accurate, parents and concerned students can enhance safety from abuse and from the negative behaviors of other abusing students by enrolling in schools with sound alcohol policies, and alcohol free residential areas.

College is an exciting, stressful and experimental period, and the corresponding risks of abuse and dependence during these years are tragically high. Choosing a lower risk facility may be a wise choice for students worried about social environments conducive to destructive substance use and abuse.

The University of Georgia should be commended for its efforts to limit the destruction of substance abuse within its campuses, and the University of Colorado at Boulder deserves ridicule for its transparent press release reaction to a persistent problem. With too many deaths, and tens of thousands of addictions developing each year at party colleges across the country, fundamental and institutional change is required to increase the safety of a transitional four year period into adulthood.

Party Schools, and Attempts At Change

Two opposite ends of the spectrum responses were elicited by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Georgia, both included within the top ten rankings in recent years.

Colorado was the number one school in the nation for campus substance abuse, in 2004. The University then mandated that all incoming freshmen complete a minimal one hour internet course on alcohol abuse in a lip service attempt at change; in contrast, the University of Georgia has fundamentally changed alcohol related policies in an effort to curb on campus drinking. Students reported in violation of alcohol policies are placed on probation, required to attend alcohol awareness courses and their parents notified; and a second violation can result in academic suspension.

The school has also opened alcohol awareness centers, and has tried to limit the use of alcohol at infamous tailgating parties before football games.

While one hour of superficial internet education cannot seriously be expected to create change, the comprehensive policy shifts of UAG are likely to have some persistent bettering influence over reputation and student behaviors.

How much of a parental and policing role educational institutes should play in the lives of their students provokes debate, and the reality is that universities have little influence over the behaviors of their students off campus, but by making concrete and substantial changes to alcohol policies, schools can effect change, and make colleges safer places to study. Alcohol has always had a place in American schools, but because a tradition exists does not mandate a continuation.

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