Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Maine colleges taking action to prevent alcohol harm

We applaud the efforts of Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin Colleges to take preventative steps to decrease the negative effects of underage drinking and high risk drinking on their campuses.

The Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21 was set back in 1984 to reduce the death toll from high risk drinking in youth and young adults. This is now considered one of the most successful public health policies in United States history saving an estimated 900 lives/year. Youth drinking rates have also steadily declined over this period of time as youth’s access to alcohol through only slightly older siblings and friends has been stymied.

The good news for educators is that, if they’re determined to make a difference, they can. A new report out by Children’s Hospital Boston says that when tough campus policies are consistently enforced, they “can reduce underage drinking and heavy episodic drinking on campus - without a ‘compensatory’ rise in marijuana use.”

By creating and enforcing rules against underage drinking, colleges are helping young people develop social skills without drinking, as well as teaching them to respect the law. More importantly, by waiting to consume alcohol until after 21, youth and young adults will be less likely to have negative alcohol outcomes—like injury, dependency, and other physical and mental health consequences.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chem Free Club Parties?

Parents today are facing all kinds of new situations and decisions—things that their own parents wouldn’t have ever heard of, or would have handled quite differently. Now we know a lot more about the way that teen brains develop and what’s safe, and what’s not.

I was reminded of this recently when I saw an advertisement for an all-ages chem free night at a local bar. It’s a tough call for parents. Should you let your teen go to an all-ages events held at a bar?

On the one hand, it’s good to encourage your kid to do alcohol- and drug- free events, right? And Maine Liquor Law requires that alcohol be completely locked up at events like this, so it seems at first glance like it might be a good opportunity for teens to get out and have a little fun.

But we think that letting teens go to events like this isn’t a great idea, and here’s why:

  • Bar staff and security aren’t trained in the particular needs of teens—they’re used to being around adults who are completely responsible for themselves
  • The kids who are going aren’t generally closely monitored by the venue staff—and some will take advantage of this lack of oversight to sneak alcohol or drugs
  • It makes teens feel like going to bars is the best way to have fun
  • Depending on the location of the venue, there might be a lot of bars open nearby that are serving alcohol. Bar patrons and teens are not a good mix!

It’s better and safer to stick with chem-free events that are hosted in a location that never serves alcohol, like a school or teen center.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Princeton Reviews Encourage Illegal and Dangerous Behavior

According to a Portland Press Herald article, the well-known Princeton Review Top Party Schools list for the 2010-2011 academic year has been released-- and this year the University of Georgia ranks in at #1. Despite increasing police force on underage drinkers since 2006, the University of Georgia is up from its #4 spot in last year’s ratings, and school officials are finding it hard to believe that they would acquire this title. The University says they take student alcohol education programs seriously, and they find it very disconcerting and surprising that their efforts aren’t presenting the results they had hoped for.

However, while many are looking at colleges to blame for underage drinking and partying, it’s surprising how little responsibility is being put on the Princeton Review itself for reporting and reinforcing the idea that the purpose of college is heavy drinking.

Why does there need to be a ranking list? Promoting where the best party schools “rage,” and where the “reefer madness” occurs, as described on Princeton’s website, is not only hurtful to the school’s reputation itself, as Georgia feels, but it is also a risky venture. Glorifying and perpetuating the idea of “party schools” as a positive thing only encourages high school kids to look for schools where drinking is heavily prevalent. College drinking puts students at risk of death, injury, assault, academic problems, and more, according to College Drinking Prevention statistics.

So, how are students or colleges truly gaining from the publication of such material? The catchy titles and popularity of the Princeton rankings actually encourage the illegal and dangerous behavior and can attract students to these colleges purely for non-academic reasons.

Creating a sense of shame associated with making it to the top party school position may further help move forward college efforts to reduce and prevent high-risk drinking, and at the same time we should always be pushing for college administrations to curb the drinking activities and tone down the party atmosphere on campuses. But maybe we should also be looking at the instiller of the problem itself—cultural expectations.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Alcohol Metabolism Testing: Harmful or Helpful?

According to a recent New York Times article, the University of California at Berkeley is giving incoming freshmen students a unique way to bond with each other before the first day of school: sending in a DNA sample to be analyzed for an individual’s ability to metabolize alcohol, lactose and folates. The school’s stated intention is to help students think critically about genetic testing, but their choice of alcohol as an “innocuous” gene test topic is questionable.

According to the schools FAQ section for students about the test:

The second gene encodes an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase. This is one of a series of enzymes involved in metabolizing (digesting) alcohol. We will test for a variant of this gene that is associated with flushing (red face) and nausea after drinking alcohol. Since most of you are below the legal age for drinking alcohol, we strongly suggest that you not drink regardless of the results of this gene test.

Despite the school’s disclaimer, giving this kind of test to first-year students, most of whom are 18 or 19 and years away from legally drinking, sends a message that drinking is expected. We’re not the only ones who think so.

There’s also the risk that someone might misunderstand the results, test negative and not think any guidelines pertain to them, therefore assuming they can drink as much as they want.

Other critics say that it is irresponsible to provide any genetic testing outside of a medical setting, because there is no chance for those receiving the results to get feedback or ask questions. Once a student learns whether or not they have a gene that makes their face flush when they have alcohol then what? Who do they go to? Even if there are, as the New York Times article states, follow up “lectures and panels with philosophers, ethicists, biologists and statisticians exploring the benefits and risks of personal genomics,” this does not take the place of individualized counseling.

Alcohol is a critical discussion topic for any freshman orientation. Presenting such a serious topic as a harmless genetics issue, lumped together with lactose and folate, is inappropriate and potentially harmful. What do you think? Should UC Berkeley use genetic testing in this way? Should genetic testing related to alcohol be a part of it?