NORTHFIELD -- With a higher-than-average rate of binge drinking among college students in Vermont, the state is working with colleges and universities to try to tackle the problem.
The Health Department held a symposium on Tuesday at Norwich University for colleges and universities to hear from national experts and to share what they’ve tried and what works with their colleagues.
The University of Vermont is warning parents about events that may trigger binge drinking. Johnson State College has distributed a list of 80 alternatives to drinking. And Norwich is touting a service that offers rides back to campus to prevent drunken driving, following a deadly crash last fall that killed a freshman and critically injured three other students.
"There’s no way that we’re going to eliminate college drinking," said Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen. But the state and colleges can encourage them to be responsible so they don’t drink and drive, rely on binge drinking to enjoy themselves and put themselves at risk of violence, suicide and sexual assaults, he said.
Online survey data from students at 13 Vermont colleges show that 76 percent drink alcohol, 53 percent binge drink -- that is, consume an excessive amount of alcohol in a short time -- and that 38 percent use marijuana, more than double the national average, according to Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.
Vermont ranks in the top five states for binge drinking, Chen said.
"We also know that in college surveys that Vermont students feel that the atmosphere in their colleges is conducive to both marijuana and to alcohol. So that to me, that’s a significant issue. Are we creating an environment that makes it too easy, too supportive for students to drink and use other substances?" he said.
Robert Saltz, a senior research scientist and associate director of Prevention Research Center, based in Berkeley, Calif., shared his findings in a project conducted among 14 colleges and universities in California. The effort included setting up so-called party patrols, DUI checkpoints and compliance checks for minors at seven of the schools and resulted in an estimated 6,000 fewer intoxicated student incidents in one semester.
The aim also was to reduce the number of parties by enforcing nuisance and noise laws.
"It wasn’t to try to catch a lot of people it was to try to get people to say, ‘Well, if I want a party, I better keep it small and under control,"’ Saltz said.