Published 12:00 am Friday, July 13, 2007

You’ll have to know a thing or two about booze this fall to be a freshman at N.C. State University, and not to fit into the social scene. At State and more than 500 campuses across the nation, officials hope learning the hard facts about alcohol will prevent students from drinking away their college careers ó and their lives.
Students enrolling at N.C. State for the first time this fall must take AlcoholEdu, an online, science-based course about alcohol and its effects on the body. It starts with a survey ó how much do you drink, do you chug, do shots, etc? Then it lays out the facts about the downside of boozing it up ó binge drinking, date rape, academic failure. And it graphs out information from the survey about the student’s worse night of drinking and what his or her probable blood alcohol level was.
More than 500 colleges and universities use AlcoholEdu to combat excessive drinking among students, including Catawba College in Salisbury. After greeting freshman with a goodie bag and a six-pack of Cheerwine ó “the only six-pack that you’re old enough to have” ó the college reinforces the message at Halloween and spring, and requires those who violate the no-underage-drinking policy to complete the AlcoholEdu course. The college is also part of the Community Coalition that pulls together Livingstone College, law enforcement, ABC agents and bar owners to share concerns and propose actions. “It can’t be a one-time thing,” says Catawba official Dan Sullivan. “It has to be all year, every chance we get.”
In addition to the dangers of alcohol, colleges also battle myths. “Nearly two-thirds of students drink 0-4 drinks when they party and 62 percent drink two times a month or less,” says Ball State’s Web site.
Message: You won’t be alone if you bypass the drinking scene.
They’re fighting the powerful forces of perception and well-crafted advertising. A study by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University found that ads for alcoholic drinks are being placed primarily in magazines that appeal to underage readers, such as those dealing with sports and music. In 2002, underage youths were exposed to 45 percent more beer and ale ads and 65 percent more ads for low-alcohol “refresher” drinks than were adults. The ads make booze look like a ticket to sex, glamour and popularity.
What beer ads don’t show are the sad facts behind those party scenes. Some 1,400 college students die each year from alcohol-related causes, and 70,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape annually. Drinking paves the way to unprotected sex, injuries and assaults. Then there’s the impact on the college educations parents scrimp and save to provide: classes missed when students sleep in after a hard night, tests failed because of thinking that’s still fuzzy ó the list goes on and on. One night of heavy drinking can impair a person’s ability to think abstractly for up to 30 days, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Does AlcoholEdu curb campus drinking? The jury is still out, but using it and other strategies to help students make informed choices about drinking can hardly go wrong. The first step toward making change is increasing awareness.