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More than half of Maryland college students who reported being high-risk drinkers had parents who permitted at least some drinking in high school, according to a study released by the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems. The study was based on a survey that was conducted at McDaniel College and nine other schools.

Among other top risk factors for alcohol abuse by Maryland college students was ease of access to alcohol, according to the survey.

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McDaniel was one of 10 Maryland colleges and universities whose students participated in the Maryland College Alcohol Survey conducted through the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health this past February and March.

According to the survey, 47 percent of Maryland college students engaged in binge drinking within a month of taking the survey. Binge drinking for males means consuming five or more drinks in a row within a couple of hours and four or more drinks for females.

Maryland colleges are in line with national findings in the Monitoring the Future Survey, which found 35 percent of full-time U.S. college students engaged in binge drinking.

Of the students who reported drinking in the past year, 34 percent blacked out, 14 percent were hurt or injured, 13 percent drove while intoxicated, 8 percent damaged property and 7 percent were taken advantage of sexually.

Many students also reported secondhand consequences of excessive drinking including having to "baby sit" another intoxicated student, experiencing interruptions in sleep or studying, being insulted or publicly humiliated, or experiencing unwanted sexual advances.

According to David Jernigan, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, there are about 1,800 alcohol-related deaths annually on college campuses nationwide — a number Jernigan said is far too high.

In an effort to curtail behavior that could lead to these deaths, survey researchers set out to understand how risk factors could be contributing to alcohol abuse, he said.

McDaniel students, along with those from Allegany College of Maryland, Frostburg State University, Johns Hopkins University, Loyola University Maryland, Notre Dame of Maryland University, Towson University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, University of Maryland College Park and University of Maryland Eastern Shore voluntarily participated in the study.

The study, however, does not break down alcohol use by individual college or university.

Surveying 4,209 students across the state, the survey delved into student alcohol use and four risk factors of excessive drinking: access and availability, attitudes and expectations about alcohol use and its perceived benefits, early exposure to alcohol and parental influences.

What it all means

Of the risk factors, parental influences and accessibility to alcohol seemed to be the leading drivers of excessive alcohol consumption at Maryland colleges, Jernigan said.

According to the study, 83 percent of low-risk drinkers had parents who did not permit any quantity of alcohol consumption during high school.

Students who had parents with more lenient policies about drinking in high school were more likely to be high-risk drinkers in college, according to Jernigan.

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"People don't understand very well that, as a parent, you don't do children a big favor by introducing them to alcohol at an early age," he said.

Of the students surveyed, 90 percent said alcohol was easy to get regardless of their drinking behavior.

About a quarter of underage students who reported drinking in the month prior to taking the survey said they used false identification to access alcohol. The majority of these students, 91 percent, were high or very-high risk drinkers. According to those underage drinkers who used fake IDs, more than half felt it would be unlikely that local police, their school or parents would be notified if they were caught.

Excessive drinking on the part of college students is a problem that needs to be addressed on an environmental level at college campuses and in the greater community, Jernigan said, and he suggested measures to look at how and how often college students are screened for alcohol problems and abuse.

"The community itself needs to look at how easy it is to get alcohol, looking into enforcement and false IDs," he said.

Jernigan suggested intervention opportunities in the academic assistance centers of college campuses, since about a quarter of students surveyed reported academic problems as a result of excessive drinking. He also suggested social host policies on college campuses for any students caught serving underage drinking to minors.

Many of the colleges, Jernigan said, are doing a number of those things already, but with regular feedback, he hopes the survey will provide more data to understand the problem and create solutions.

At McDaniel

McDaniel College, along with the nine other surveyed colleges and universities, is a wet campus, where students who of legal drinking age can consume alcoholic beverages on campus.

According to McDaniel's college alcohol policy, the school expects students to comply with all federal, state and local regulations regarding alcohol consumption and expects "that alcoholic beverages will be used in moderation, at suitable times, and under decorous conditions."

Public intoxication is prohibited on McDaniel's campus.

McDaniel also has a list of additional restrictions regarding alcohol possession and use, including on possession of hard liquor by students on campus, drinking games and contests, kegs and other multi-liter containers without permission of the Office of Student Affairs, and disruptive noise or behavior.

According to the alcohol policy, of-age students may consume alcohol in their dorm rooms, but not in any public areas of the college. Certain designated substance-free residence halls and houses on campus also prohibit alcohol consumption.

Abuse prevention

All of the participating colleges and universities were already collecting data in some form about their students' alcohol consumption, Jernigan said.

At McDaniel, students are required to take the AlcoholEdu, an online alcohol prevention program aimed at reducing dangerous alcohol use by college students and reducing alcohol-related harms such as blackouts, drunk driving and sexual assaults.

Liz Towle, McDaniel's associate dean for student affairs, said AlcoholEdu collects data about the students based on their responses. Depending on an answer, specific information is shared with the student. The data is also used by the college to guide programming initiatives and educational outreach.

McDaniel students who do not participate in AlcoholEdu, have holds placed on their accounts and they cannot register for, add or drop classes.

According to a statement from McDaniel, the college continues to be committed to addressing the issue of college alcohol consumption and "helping our students make informed and intelligent decisions regarding alcohol use."

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McDaniel Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Beth R. Gerl said the school believes a key factor in addressing alcohol consumption is parental involvement.

"We are proud of the relationships forged with parents even before their children step foot on our campus with conversations that occur during our Parent Preview summer orientation program," Gerl wrote in a statement.

Along with AlcoholEdu, the college offers late-night programming such as alcohol-free social alternatives on campus, Gerl said.

While the alcohol consumption rates for students in Maryland match rates at colleges and universities nationwide, Jernigan said those numbers are still too high.

Researchers want to see measurable change in alcohol consumption on college campuses, Jernigan said.

Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or krishana.davis@carrollcountytimes.com.

Drinking statistics at Maryland colleges

About 90 percent of students said alcohol is easy or very easy to obtain.

Almost 90 percent of very high risk drinkers experienced two or more negative consequences as a result of their own drinking.

21.6 percent of students reported getting into a serious argument or quarrel while intoxicated.

About 15.1 percent of college students reported experiencing an unwanted sexual advance while intoxicated.

And 2.3 percent report being victims of sexual assaults or date rapes.

Source: 2014 Maryland College Alcohol Survey

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