Experts discuss strategies to curb high-risk drinking

Edward Cox, Reporter

Health experts spoke about efforts among colleges to reduce high-risk drinking at an on-campus alcohol intervention conference Tuesday and Wednesday.

The two-day conference, called the “Evidence-Based Interventions to Reduce Binge Drinking on College Campuses,” was organized by Feinberg School of Medicine Prof. Michael Fleming. It was created last year in in honor of Matthew Sunshine, a Northwestern freshman who died of alcohol intoxication in 2008.

Speakers included NU staff and members of the learning collaborative National College Health Improvement Project, who presented data about various colleges’ efforts to curb drinking.

To control alcohol abuse at NU, the University hosted an alcohol-free party called “Norris at Night” at Norris University Center during Wildcat Welcome.  NU has also strengthened connections with local emergency rooms and compiled data from alcohol intervention programs on campus, Fleming said.

 “The rates of alcohol use in Northwestern are the same as other universities … but Northwestern University is doing more about it than other campuses,” Fleming said.

Students met in discussion groups with Fleming and talked about the use of social media, including Twitter, to promote alcohol- and drug-free events.

“What we found most significant is … (the students’) willingness to intervene have increased notably,” said NU health educator Lisa Currie of the Red Watch Band Program, a voluntary four-hour training session where students learn how to deal with alcohol emergencies.

College students still have to focus on helping others in situations involving alcohol abuse, said Carol Petersen, associate director of the Wellness Center of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Students are civil-minded about helping the homeless and feeding individuals, but we need to teach them how to be civil-minded within working and helping take care of each other,” Petersen said.

Students who attended the conference and participated in discussions included members of the NU chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which is part of an international network. SSDP was revived last Winter Quarter after being closed in 2009.

“I think Northwestern University is pretty sensible compared to other universities,” said SSDP president Frances Fu, citing NU’s Responsible Action Protocol as an example. She said the protocol encourages students to report emergency situations involving alcohol abuse.

Fu, a SESP sophomore, plans to raise awareness of alcohol abuse through SSDP by organizing discussions about the issue in residential dorms.