WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Members or pledges of college fraternities and sororities are twice as likely as non-Greek students to get drunk at least weekly – and are at significantly higher risk of being injured or injuring someone else – according to new research from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
The research suggests that a simple screening question – “In a typical week, how many days do you get drunk?” – may help identify students at highest risk of injury from drinking.
Greek pledges who reported getting drunk at least weekly had five times the risk of falling from a height and two and a half times the risk of experiencing a burn than non-Greek students who do not get drunk, according to a study involving 10,635 students at 10 North Carolina universities. The students were surveyed in the fall terms of 2003-2005.
“This single question could potentially be used as a screening tool to identify students who are most likely to get hurt as a result of drinking,” said lead researcher Mary Claire O’Brien, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine and public health sciences.
She reported the data, from an ongoing, five-year project to develop effective strategies for reducing problem drinking on college campuses, today at the annual meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine in San Francisco.
The student survey revealed that 90 percent of Greek members drank alcohol in the past 30 days, compared to 65 percent of other students. Sixty percent of Greek members and pledges reported getting drunk weekly, compared to 32 percent of non-Greeks. More than three out of four (78 percent) Greeks said that getting drunk is “OK,” compared to 52 percent of non-Greeks.
The on-line survey asked students about their drinking habits and the consequences. Getting drunk was defined as being unsteady, dizzy or sick to your stomach. The study showed that the single question about drinking is more predictive of risk for injury than asking students about binge drinking, which is defined as four or more alcoholic drinks in a row for females and five drinks for males.
The Wake Forest researchers found that in addition to increased risk for falls and burns, Greek students who got drunk were at increased risk of experiencing and causing other injuries to other students. Compared to non-Greek students who did not get drunk weekly, Greek pledges who got drunk weekly were twice as likely to experience at least one injury and more than twice as likely to cause at least one injury to someone else. Female pledges and members who got drunk weekly had more than twice the risk of being sexually assaulted than non-Greek students who did not get drunk at least weekly.
“When you drink, you’re also at risk because of other people’s drinking,” O’Brien said. “My message to college students is don’t get drunk and don’t hang out with anyone who gets drunk. Drunk isn’t funny. Drunk puts you at risk for burns, falling out of windows, sexual assault, and car crashes. If you feel dizzy, you’ve already had too much.”
The researchers have previously shown that the single question about drinking could predict the risk of injury in college students overall. The goal of the current analysis was to see if it would apply to a high-risk population. Freshmen students, athletes and members of fraternities and sororities have been shown in previous studies to drink more alcohol than other students, O’Brien said.
The overall goal of the $4.1 million Study to Prevent Alcohol-Related Consequences (SPARC) is to reduce the availability of alcohol to students and to help change campus cultures that promote drinking. The study uses such strategies as restricting alcohol at campus events, increasing enforcement, constraining marketing and educating alcohol sellers and servers, landlords, students and parents. Strategies to reduce problem drinking are being implemented at half of the campuses, with emphasis on forming campus-community coalitions that address issues specific to each school.
The multidisciplinary study team is led by Mark Wolfson, Ph.D., associate professor of social sciences and health policy at Wake Forest Baptist. The research is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Other members of the SPARC research team are Heather Champion, Ph.D., Gail Cohen, M.D., Robert H. DuRant, Ph.D., Edward Ip, Ph.D., Lisa Kaltenbach, M.S., Sheryl Hulme, Barbara Alvarez Martin, M.P.H., Thomas McCoy, M.S., Cindy Miller, A.A.S., Ananda Mitra, Ph.D., Scott Rhodes, Ph.D., Erin Sutfin, Ph.D., Hoa Teuschlser, B.S., Leslie Tuttle and Kim Wagoner, M.S., all from Wake Forest.
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Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 18th in family medicine, 20th in geriatrics, 25th in primary care and 41st in research among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 32nd in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.