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Binge Drinking Puts the Brain, and Life Itself, at Risk
Date:11/7/2009

Colleges fight back to stem a growing problem across the U.S.

SATURDAY, Nov. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly half of students at four-year colleges do it regularly (and, it's not sex).

Rather, it's binge drinking -- downing five or more alcoholic drinks at a sitting.

"People have a hard time identifying alcohol as a drug," said Jenny Hwang, associate dean of students and director of the counseling center at Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y. In fact, she said, heavy drinking is glamorized as a rite of passage in college years.

But it's a dangerous rite.

The death toll from alcohol has been rising among U.S. college students. According to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol-related deaths have increased in this group from 1,440 in 1998 to 1,825 less than a decade later, in 2005.

Even if the binge drinking doesn't result in death, Hwang and others emphasize, the risks can be great. In a study published in April, researchers from San Diego reported that young people who binge drink can seriously damage the white matter in their brain, which is crucial for relaying information between brain cells.

Though damage to white matter has long been observed in the brains of adult alcoholics, the researchers expressed surprise at seeing it in young drinkers.

Because of such dangers and the rising death toll, Hwang and other college officials across the United States have taken action, putting into place peer programs and educational outreach to try to stem the tide of drinking-related hazards.

College officials also have begun to reach out to bars near their campuses to enlist their help in the effort. Parents of college students can help as well, experts said, by making sure their college-age offspring are aware of the dangers and don't become a statistic.

"You want to try to reach students before they get to a state where they
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