Local Colleges Use Peers to Show Freshmen the Ropes When It Comes to Alcohol

It's the time of year when new students flood college campuses; unfortunately, so does alcohol. Binge drinking is widely seen as a rite of passage for most undergraduates. This is why two Houston universities are making sure that if incoming freshman decide to drink, they do it responsibly. From the KUHF NewsLab Edel Howlin has more.

It’s orientation week for college freshmen around Houston. Students will be taking campus tours, picking their classes and making friends.

For a lot of students, this is the first time they’ve lived away from home. Keeping this in mind, two Houston universities are putting the focus on alcohol education.

Last year, Rice banned hard liquor on campus. Student groups are only allowed to serve beer and wine.  Ryan Gupta is a junior at Rice and says this year represents a fresh start when it comes to drinking on campus.

"I think there was definitely a huge void in terms of alcohol education prior to this year. It was almost a taboo topic, but we’re getting rid of that taboo and we are beginning a new philosophy toward alcohol."

John Hutchinson is the Dean of Undergraduates at Rice. He thinks this new focus on alcohol education is the result of higher instances of risky drinking on campus.

Last year, caffeinated alcoholic drinks targeted to college students hit the market. The Rice University paper was inundated with stories of alcohol related problems, student injuries and blackouts after consuming these drinks. This led to a complete ban on all caffeinated alcoholic drinks.  Dean Hutchinson agrees that these drinks have been a problem, but high-risk drinking has been on the rise for the last couple of years.

"There was some presence of Four Loko on our campus last year, but I don’t think the problem is specifically isolated to the availability of one particular drink. I think it is more related to a larger culture nationwide having to do with use of alcohol, but also to a significant extent a lack of information for students about what is reasonable use of alcohol and what is dangerous use of alcohol."

Like Rice, the University of Houston has mandatory alcohol education programs for incoming students. Dr. Gail Gillan is the Director of U of H Wellness Center and says that freshmen are a high risk group for increased alcohol consumption. Orientation programs can help by convincing them that many upperclassmen actually don't drink very much.

"One of the things we know and the research tells us is that all students tend to overestimate alcohol use on the part of their peers. So what our program does is give them a more accurate picture. We have found that around 77 to 80 percent of our students consume between 0 and 3 times in a month. That’s well within a pattern that would be not considered high-risk."

The programs also teach practical information including how to calculate Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) and how to call for help if a friend is in trouble. As someone who’s been there, Gupta has this advice for freshmen.

Drinkers and non-drinkers, whether you come out and party every weekend, or whether you are just there and you are holding a coke. Nobody really cares, you don’t have to be drunk to party or have a good time.

 

    For more information on both programs, visit:
  • Rice's CHOICES program
  • UH's award winning program IMAGE

 

This story was written by Brenda P Salinas and voiced by Edel Howlin.