Increasing Hospitalizations Prompt Alcohol Policy Review
Dean Of Students Office Examines Drinking Safety
Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
All across the United States, the legal age for the consumption of alcohol is 21. Breaches of state alcohol laws, however, are handled differently at universities across the 50 states. At Boston College, the alcohol policy is formulated by the Dean of Students Office (DSO). According to Dean of Students Paul Chebator, his office is concerned with the health and safety of the students, as well as following the law, when they design the school’s policy.
“We’ve seen a rising number of students winding up requiring medical care because of alcohol overdoses,” Chebator said. “What we are also seeing is an increase in severity. It used to be that two-thirds of students who required medical care went to the infirmary and one-third went to the hospital. This has flip-flopped over the past three or four years, with more going to the hospital, meaning that they are more highly intoxicated.”
In addition to the DSO, the Office of Health Promotion (OHP) and Eagle EMS have noticed similar trends. According to Alex Warshauer, president of Eagle EMS and A&S ’14, Eagle EMS has seen a significant increase in the number of transports.
“I believe that the help-seeking policy has increased the number of transports significantly,” Warshauer said. “However, I don’t think the number of incidents is increasing—we are just getting called to more of them. While this puts an additional stress on the EMS system and the ER, it is much better that we see these patients are able to get the help that they need. We don’t want these incidents to go unreported and risk a tragedy. As always, the first priority is the safety of our students.”
While Chebator acknowledged the significant role that the help-seeking policy has played in increasing the number of medical transports, he thinks that there is more involved. He cited increased vigilance by resident assistants as well as changing behavior on campus over the past five to 10 years.
“I don’t think the whole increase in transports can solely be attributed to the help-seeking policy,” Chebator said. “Even with that, the level of intoxication among students is higher than it used to be. What factors into this is the phenomenon of pregaming and doing shots as a part of the pregaming. This is a relatively new phenomenon.”
Both Warshauer and Elise Phillips, director of the OHP, recognized the important role of pregaming in the increase in the number of transports over the past few years.
“Pregaming has become a more popular style of drinking—that is, drinking more in a short period of time,” Phillips said. “Students choose hard alcohol, primarily, and try to conceal it. Most incidents of alcohol-related hospitalizations are related to hard alcohol and pregaming.”
When Eagle EMS writes up their reports for alcohol-related incidents, they talk to the student involved and collect data on the circumstances that led to the call. They have found that at least 80 percent of the alcohol-related calls are due to shots, mixing alcohol, or the combination of alcohol and drugs. Chebator acknowledged that this trend could be seen in the data garnered from the meetings that medically transported students had to have with alcohol counselors.
When looking at the factors behind these trends, both Chebator and Phillips noted three factors that led to higher levels of drinking on a college campus. The first was a school’s geographic location, specifically noting that schools in the Northeast tended to have higher levels of drinking. The second was whether or not a school had a Division I athletics program. The third related to a school’s residential situation. Chebator talked about whether a school had a fraternity system and suggested that BC made up for its lack of a Greek system with some of the residence halls on campus. In addition to these factors, Chebator also noted some significant changes that have occurred to BC since he arrived as an administrator in 1980.
“At one point, BC was predominantly a commuter school,” Chebator said. “That started to change in the mid-’70s. The school also had a different socioeconomic make-up. There were more students who had to focus on making money. Still, alcohol has always been an issue here. To some degree, it is probably something we are never going to change, but it is also something that we have an obligation to mitigate. The Murray House used to be the commuter center, when we had a large number of commuter students. When the drinking age was 18, it used to have a Friday afternoon happy hour and they had a standing order for three kegs. As the drinking age was gradually being moved back up to 21, one of my first jobs was pulling the rug out from under that because many of those students were driving home later.”