California among states with stricter alcohol use laws

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Binge drinking among college students is lower in states with stricter alcohol laws, according to a new study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study found that states with at least four or more laws discouraging heavy alcohol consumption had a lower rate of binge drinking among college students.

Toben Nelson, assistant director of program evaluations for the College Alcohol Study at the Harvard School of Public Health, said that out of 40 states involved in the study, seven had a comprehensive set of laws that included items such as registering kegs, making it illegal to drive when over a low blood alcohol level, placing restrictions on happy hours and open containers, advertising and marketing if alcohol products, and prohibiting alcohol sales to already intoxicated people.

California was among the seven states that had at least four of these laws, Nelson said.

Nelson said the binge drinking rate in California among college students is substantially lower than other states.

The states with the higher rates tended to be in the North Central and Northeast regions of the United States, and the lower rates were in the West and South, he said.

Where the lower rates of binge drinking were found, there were comprehensive sets of laws.

“A lot of the research we’ve done points to the environment that promotes heavy drinking,” Nelson said.

Environmental factors include the way alcohol is marketed and promoted, the price, how easily accessible it is, and how strict the enforcement of the laws are.

Nelson said the study also found that colleges with higher instances of binge drinking tend to only punish bad behavior, rather than try to prevent an overconsumption of alcohol in the first place.

“It’s consistently been a big problem,” Nelson said. “It hasn’t changed much over time. But people don’t want to tackle it because it’s a difficult issue.”

Oscar Perez, senior psychology major who lived in the University Park Apartments last year, said he has witnessed binge drinking and how it changes a person’s behavior.

Perez admitted to participating in heavy drinking at parties, but said he never participated in risky behavior because he was always afraid of getting caught.

“It’s part of the college atmosphere,” Perez said. “But it’s not that bad here. I’m sure it’s worse in other places.”

The laws do make it difficult to get carried away with drinking too much, and it’s a good thing the laws exist to protect people and keep them out of trouble, Perez said.

John Carr, a public officer at the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said binge drinking is a problem in general, but it is of great concern within the college population.

Carr said from looking at statistics it is evident that heavy alcohol consumption leads to dangerous and reckless behavior.

According to recent statistics, 40 percent of college students have participated in binge drinking, and an average of four college students die a day in accidents involving alcohol, he said.

Carr said although California may be among the states with lower binge drinking rates, there is always room for improvement and better control. Any education regarding this drinking problem would help, he said. Anything from media to student groups are needed to get the message out.

Carr said the change in behavior due to this type of education has proven to be successful with other drugs such as tobacco.

“There are too many tragedies every day,” Carr said. “We can’t get the message out there enough.”