Editorial: UI’s alcohol culture changing

[Source: “Editorial: UI’s alcohol culture changing,” Daily Iowan, 10 July 2013, by the DI Editorial Board]

The Partnership for Alcohol Safety will meet this afternoon to discuss how best to move forward with its mission to reduce problem drinking at the University of Iowa, including tentative plans to bring more alcohol alternatives downtown.

The partnership, a coalition of University of Iowa and Iowa City leaders, will also talk about the new data gleaned from the new 2013 National College Health Assessment, which seems to indicate that problem drinking is on the decline at the UI.

According to the report, a survey of UI students released last month, the portion who have used alcohol in the past 30 days fell to approximately 75 percent. That’s 10 points lower than the 2009 rate and the lowest recorded rate since data were first collected in 1991.

The portion of students participating in risky drinking — defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting within the past two weeks — also fell to its lowest level in two decades. In 2013, 58.7 percent of students reported risky drinking, down from 70.3 percent in 2009.

Some other drinking statistics targeted by the Partnership for Alcohol Safety also fell. The average number of drinks consumed while socializing fell to 5.9, from 6.3 in 2012 and 7.4 in 2009.

Students’ relationship with alcohol seems to be changing independently of other vices, however.

While rates of alcohol use have fallen, rates of smoking, marijuana use, and drug use have all risen or remained static.

Because the decrease in rates has been essentially exclusive to alcohol, there is reason to believe that a sort of cultural change may be taking place at the UI.

Today, students perceive heavy drinking to be less widespread than in the past.

In recent years, perceptions of alcohol use have changed for the better. In 2012, students estimated that 63 percent of students drank 10 or more days in the last month. In 2013, students estimated that 55 percent of students drank that much. In both cases, the actual percentage of student’s drinking 10 or more days per month was about half the perceived rate.

This apparent shift in the drinking culture is likely a product of a combination of factors including the 21-ordinance, stronger law enforcement, and the efforts of the Partnership for Alcohol Safety to reduce problem drinking.

The partnership has a few more projects on the horizon designed to offer students alcohol alternatives in an effort to further reduce these numbers. At this afternoon’s meeting, the members will discuss possible partnerships to bring new, alcohol-free offerings to downtown Iowa City and a program designed to encourage students to explore Iowa City beyond the Pedestrian Mall.

We have been critical of the Partnership for Alcohol Safety on this page in the past, particularly with its occasionally dubious use of statistics to demonstrate its effect on the community. In March, we noted that increased police enforcement, not the public-relations efforts of the partnership, was primarily responsible for the falling number of alcohol infractions.

But the new data from the National College Health Assessment seem to indicate a changing culture at the UI consistent with the efforts of the partnership. We applaud the partnership’s success so far and hope it continues to chip away at problem drinking at the UI.

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