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University Statistics Show a Change In Student Alcohol Abuse Treatment

Candace Braun

Startling statistics concerning drinking among college students can be explained, at least in part, by a newly found depth of understanding by students on the subject, said Dr. Daniel Silverman, director of Princeton University Health Services.

The number of University students receiving medical attention from alcohol abuse has increased by 40 percent over the past year. It appears that the surge is due to a required freshman class that focuses attention on the health-related risks of drinking, Dr. Silverman told Borough Council members at a meeting held on Tuesday, December 9.

The meeting between local police, Council members, high school and university students, parents, and Princeton University officials was a follow-up to a meeting held six months ago regarding an ordinance that would allow police officers to enforce underage drinking laws on private property.

Controversial Ordinance

The ordinance, which has been controversial in the Borough since it was first recommended by the state of New Jersey three years ago, will not be put to a vote for adoption as long as progress is being made toward fixing the drinking problem in town, said Mayor Marvin Reed.

This year, approximately 90 percent of University freshman enrolled in informative classes on alcohol abuse, compared to 30 percent of students that enrolled in the class last year. This is equivalent to more than 1,000 students, said Dr. Silverman.

In addition, he said he believes students who are coming in for medical treatment have lower blood alcohol levels than those who received treatment before.

Other statistics gathered by Dr. Silverman show that male students that admitted themselves for treatment over the past year generally had a higher blood alcohol level than females. Binge drinking was also found to be 50 percent more common in male students.

In addition, last year more freshman and sophomores sought treatment than juniors and seniors, he said.

At last week's Council meeting, Dr. Silverman said he was displeased with the University's reputation regarding alcohol abuse, and, he said, he feels the University has been involved with students to halt underage and binge drinking in several ways. Over the past year, the University has spent $125,000 on alcohol education programs and nonalcoholic events for students on campus, he said.

Later he also cited the AlcoholEDU course, outreach events to students and residence advisors, and campaigns to raise the consciousness of the student body about medical dangers of binge drinking. "They are responding by seeking help earlier and more often," said Dr. Silverman. Janet Smith Dickerson, vice president of student life at the University, said the school has also set aside additional substance-free housing for students this year than in years past, and received more applications from interested students than they had rooms to provide.

"We have worked very hard with clarity and conviction to change some of the systems at the University," Ms. Dickerson said.

Substance-free housing has been available in upper-class dorms since a pilot program began in 1999, said Lisa de Paul of the University's housing department. The program started with 29 smoke-free beds and 10 substance-free beds. Undergraduate Student Government showed interest in expanding the program, and today the University has 64 smoke-free beds and 10 substance-free beds.

A pilot program in Rockefeller College this year allocated 68 beds in Buyers Hall that were both substance- and smoke-free.

This will increase in years to come, said Ms. de Paul.

Drinking in Eating Clubs

University eating clubs also appear to be making changes to combat drinking problems. Student Corey Sanders, the University's Inter-Club Council president for the Prospect Avenue eating clubs, said he has encouraged the clubs to make changes regarding parties held in the houses, including having non-student security for parties, identifying those who are of legal drinking age with wristbands, and checking all students for University student IDs before allowing them to enter.

Serving an alternative beverage has also been researched, Mr. Sanders said. The University senior said he found that when an alternative beverage was offered at parties, many students opted to drink it. He reported that two eating clubs will soon install soda machines, and he hopes other clubs will follow suit.

Councilman David Goldfarb was skeptical about the changes, however. He said that police and University officials still report just as many alcohol-related incidents as they have in the past. "Something has broken down somewhere in the process," said Mr. Goldfarb.

Mayor Reed added that reports of noise violations submitted by University faculty are still at a high rate.

Mr. Sanders, who will be graduating at the end of the year, urged the Council to be patient, suggesting that change is generally gradual, not instant.

"It's such a social shift," said Mr. Sanders. "I think it's a lot to see a dramatic change in one semester ... the student body has a four-year memory."

Ten high school students from the Teen Advisory Group (TAG) at Corner House also attended the meeting. The students said they try to be role models for their peers, offering advice and help to students who binge drink at parties.

Several commented that they have friends who drink at parties, as well as friends who drive home afterwards under the influence.

"Drug and alcohol abuse is visible and present in the high schools in Princeton," said Suzanne Boyer, a member of Corner House.

Along with the student government president for the University, TAG is working to provide substance-free events for students to attend, such as coffeehouse gatherings, a cappella night, and a skating night.

The students, from both public and private schools, are the first to be part of the new student board at Corner House, which is a joint municipal non-profit agency that provides substance-abuse counseling for young adults.

Overall, Mayor Reed said he felt there has been a general shift of alcohol awareness and compliance since the Council first met to debate the issue three years ago.

"I think each group is making good progress. Everyone seems to be much more committed to tackling the problem than before," he said in a recent interview. "Everybody came [to the meeting] ready to show they were ready to work on the problem."

The Council will meet with area officials again in six months for another update.

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