Despite some progress, binge drinking still a top concern at NDSU


FARGO — North Dakota State University has made some inroads in curbing alcohol abuse among its student body in the decade since a group began fostering a healthy culture, but binge drinking remains a stubborn problem.

University administrators credit the President's Council for Campus Well-Being, a group of about 35 faculty, students and staff created a decade ago, with encouraging social alternatives to drinking alcohol, including late-night, alcohol free campus activities.

In a report, administrators highlighted signs of progress, as measured by student surveys, including:

• Driving under the influence, which reached 48.8 percent in 2001, has subsided to 15.3 percent by 2016.

• The number of underage students who don't drink alcohol has increased from 16.2 percent in 2006 to 31.1 percent in 2016.

• Binge drinking — four drinks for women and five for men in a two-hour period within the past two weeks — has fallen from 55.8 percent in 2005 to 43.7 percent in 2016.

"The council has made significant strides, particularly when we look at consequences related to alcohol and drug misuse, such as driving under the influence or missing class," said Laura Oster-Aaland, vice president for student affairs and co-chairwoman of the council.

Much of NDSU's strategy has hinged on "harm reduction" steps, creating an atmosphere that makes it easier to avoid risky behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse.

"It really focuses on creating an environment and cultivating a culture," said Nick Redenius, NDSU's alcohol and drug abuse coordinator.

A tolerance for alcohol abuse is prevalent throughout much of society, and is especially prevalent among the college-aged population, he said.

"Some of these behavioral trends aren't unique to NDSU students," Redenius added.

Although gradually declining, further reducing the binge-drinking rate on campus remains a priority at NDSU.

"The binge drinking rate is one we've seen rather stable in recent years, but overall it's gradually decreasing," Redenius said. "Is it a key area of concern? Absolutely."

Binge drinking can lead to health problems, other risky behaviors and poor academic performance, he said.

The average number of drinks consumed per week for NDSU students was 6.42, according to the 2016 survey. Almost 16 percent used tobacco within the past month, while almost 9 percent used electronic cigarettes or other vaping devices within the past month.

Marijuana is the most common illicit drug, with use hovering around a quarter of the NDSU student population over the past year, according to surveys. Among other drug use, prescription drug abuse was the next most common, with 3.2 percent reporting using prescription drugs for non-medical reasons over the past month.

"There's a whole host of factors that impact the bottom line of those substance misuse behaviors," Redenius said.

NDSU tries to offer alcohol-free alternatives, including dances and concerts, including during welcome week at the start of the fall semester. A disc jockey plays music and students can play billiards, video games or bowl, for example.

The well-being council plans to expand its focus, building on the foundation it has laid over the past decade, Redenius said.

Sexual violence will be an area of increased focus, along with substance misuse and mental health.