'Sadness and Loss' Grip SUNY Geneseo

SUNY Geneseo students are still grappling with grief and disbelief over the death of a sophomore who allegedly had too much to drink at a college party.

"The general feeling is of sadness and loss on campus," said Danielle Forrest, SUNY Geneseo's student association president. "It hits close to home when a student dies on your campus, who has been there for two years."

Arman Partamian, 19, of Flushing, N.Y., was found unresponsive Sunday inside a nonsanctioned fraternity house near campus after consuming an excessive amount of alcohol at a party of between 20 and 30 people, police said. New York State Police spokesman Mark O'Donnell said the department is still investigating the case.

Ongoing Problem

Partamian's death is the latest fatality linked to what experts deem an ongoing problem of binge drinking on college campuses across the country.

Nearly half of college students say they binge drink, which is defined as consuming five or more drinks in one sitting for men, or four or more for women, according to the college alcohol-consumption study at the Harvard School of Public Health.

At the start of the academic year, many students, including those at SUNY Geneseo, were greeted with warnings about the clear and present dangers of alcohol consumption.

"The college does a good job of educating the students about binge drinking," Forrest said. "The school gives a presentation for every student about the topic, and has for the past two years."

At the same time, however, presidents of roughly 100 colleges and universities wrote letters urging lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age to 18 from 21. They argued that existing laws encouraged their students to drink heavily over a short period of time.

Young students who don't know their limits or succumb to peer pressure are more likely to drink dangerously if it is illegal, say the proponents of lowering the drinking age.

Fierce Opposition

The presidents' proposal met fierce opposition from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which argued that a lower drinking age would lead to more fatal car crashes.

Health experts, for their part, say the biggest obstacle is convincing students that binge drinking is a problem. And adding to the challenge is the lack of a hard-and-fast definition of binge drinking, which can result in long-term effects including alcoholism, liver damage and cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and brain.

Equally sobering is a recent Associated Press analysis of federal records that found that 157 college-age people, 18 to 23, drank themselves to death from 1999 through 2005.

The standard definition of binge drinking is misleading, said Aaron Krasnow, associate director of counseling and consultation at Arizona State University.

"People generally talk about binge drinking, referring to excessive alcohol use in one sitting," Krasnow said. "But the actual clinical definition is five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within one hour."

Loss of Control

Linda Lederman, author of "Changing the Culture of College Drinking," said binge drinking is a misleading term used to describe college students' drinking behavior.

She and other experts said students may drink a lot, but the behavior doesn't necessarily fall into the clinical category of binge drinking.

"If we are talking about binge drinking, that means the kind of loss of control that goes into an alcoholic binge," Lederman said.

By the general definition of binge drinking, college students do it more than other groups. But that changes during the student's time in college, Lederman said.

It occurs more in "younger college students, not older college students," she said. "People in their third or fourth year do not drink that way. In fact, most kids on college campuses do not drink that way."

Vince Mitchell, a 21-year-old senior at Arizona State University in Tempe, said he downs about five beers, sometimes more, when he decides to drink. He drinks with less intensity, though, than he did during his freshman year, he added.

'Kind of Over It'

"I think by the time you're old enough to drink, you are just kind of over it," he said. "It's not this big deal. By that time you usually are out of the dorms, you're paying for your own apartment, and it's just expensive to go to the bars."

Mitchell considers his drinking habits as "social or casual drinking" rather than binge drinking, he said.

He believes a binge drinker is someone who has a fifth of hard liquor every day, which actually matches an alcoholic, someone who has an alcohol dependence problem, Arizona counselor Krasnow said.

"Just because you are a binge drinker doesn't make you an alcoholic," he said. "But if you're an alcoholic, you probably have done some binge drinking."

Though many students on campuses across the country don't see their drinking as a problem, Krasnow noted, "Binge drinking is not often thought of as a problematic, even though it really is."