UW students drink moderately

At first glance, a recent survey of University of Wisconsin system students confirms what many already assumed: Students in Wisconsin drink more than the average college student nationwide.

A closer examination of the results, however, reveals that over half of the students surveyed choose to drink moderately, if at all.

In late April and early May of this year, representatives from the UW system’s 26 branches administered a pilot survey to 2,549 college students, in a preliminary effort to address system-wide concerns over alcohol consumption.

The results show the surveyed students exceed the national average in alcohol consumption in several respects, including binge drinking and alcohol consumption per week.

Males in the UW system on average have 11 drinks per week, compared to an 8-drink average among those nationally. Females were half a drink above the national average, consuming 4.5 drinks per week.

In addition, 61 percent of males surveyed admitted to binge drinking within the last two weeks when the study was conducted, compared with 51 percent of those surveyed nationally. Females in the UW system were less prone to the activity; 38 percent admitted to binge drinking, whereas 40 percent of females at the national level had done it.

On the other hand, 52 percent of surveyed UW system students reported that they drink in moderation, having three or fewer drinks per week, indicating there is a large group of college students who choose to be responsible in their choices, according to UW-Stout psychology professor George Smeaton.

Smeaton, the principal force and analyst behind the pilot study, recognized the importance of the results.

“The survey illustrates that this is a system-wide issue and not just something localized,” he said.

The survey was an effort to find difficulties and complications in a survey process that will be administered annually over the Internet to 10,000 UW students, according to Smeaton. It also served to unify the gathering of alcohol- and drug-related information at the state level. Previously, it was left to individual campuses.

Smeaton is a member of the UW system Alcohol and Drug Abuse Task Force, a system-wide committee trying to lessen alcohol abuse and encourage responsibility in the decisions students make. He acknowledges that college drinking is a cultural expectation.

“A lot of high school students think that this is what you are going to do when you come to college … that you’re going to come and you’re going to drink a whole lot,” Smeaton said. “When students come in with that expectation, they are going to see that behavior as appropriate.”

Some students argue that the current college perception is accurate.

“Let’s just say you can find a party any day of the week,” UW-Madison freshman Brian Schaldach said.

UW officials want to stop the trend.

“One of our goals is to dispel the notion that when you come to college, it’s all partying,” said Susan Crowley, director of prevention services at UW-Madison and member of the UW system task force.

The results come at a time when student-administrators and media perceptions can blur the reality of life on college campuses both statewide and nationally. UW-Madison freshman Mike Tomczyk sees the effect such perceptions have in the college environment.

Drinking “has been something that students have always known … they have seen it on TV, movies, from older friends and siblings,” he said. “It is definitely part of the college culture whether people like it or not.”

Smeaton recognizes the presence of drinking on the college campus, but advocates a responsible approach.

“It’s absurd to ask our students not to drink,” he said. “What we’d like to see is that our students drink in a more healthy manner.”

UW-La Crosse freshman Grant Bernard believes drinking is OK as long as it is done responsibly.

“I think that responsible drinking is acceptable,” Bernard said. “If people are coherent enough to make logical decisions and don’t become a burden or threat to other people, I think drinking is OK.”