Binge Drinking Entrenched in College Culture

ByABC News via logo
September 1, 2005, 12:30 AM

Sept. 7, 2005 — -- It's been nearly a year since 19-year-old Samantha Spady was found dead of alcohol poisoning in a fraternity house at Colorado State University. Spady's blood alcohol content was 0.436 -- five times the legal limit -- and investigators say she consumed up to 40 drinks the day before she died.

Spady's death was far from the only alcohol-related campus tragedy last year, and as school starts up again this year, colleges and universities across the country are bracing for more booze-fueled chaos.

Each year, college drinking contributes to an estimated 1,400 student deaths, 500,000 injuries and 70,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a part of the federal National Institutes of Health.

Government and universities are pouring millions of dollars into programs to crack down on or curb campus "binge drinking," but there's been little change in students' behavior over the past decade.

Many experts studying alcohol use on college campuses say excessive drinking is so deeply entrenched in the culture, only a radical shift in students' attitude toward drinking will help.

Spady's parents, Patty and Rick, have started a group called the SAM (Student Alcohol Management) Spady Foundation, whose mission is to educate students and parents about risky alcohol use.

Patty Spady says she and her husband "regret daily" that they never talked to Sam -- a former homecoming queen and high school class president -- about the fact that heavy drinking could be deadly. But she also admits that she wasn't totally aware of the dangers herself. "I feel like kids are going out with the intention of getting drunk," she said. "About that style of drinking -- I was totally naïve."

Binge drinking is commonly defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting, and the number of college students considered binge drinkers -- around 44 percent -- has stayed about the same for the past decade.

But ask many college students, and that definition of binge drinking seems ludicrous.