A new survey suggests drug and alcohol use among New Mexico college students isn’t as high as it was five years ago.
The New Mexico Higher Education Prevention Consortium released the results of an annual survey measuring the prevalence of alcohol and drug use among the state’s university students. This year, NMHEPC compared the data collected in the spring 2013 semester to survey results from 2008.
The results this year indicate that use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, prescription drugs, cocaine and methamphetamine has decreased among New Mexico college students.
“Almost every single indicator — and all of the indicators that were important — moved positively,” said NMHEPC Director John Steiner. “In other words, there was less underage drinking, less excessive or binge drinking.”
Steiner, who is also program manager for the Campus Office of Substance Abuse Prevention at UNM, said he thinks the decrease in alcohol and drug use can be attributed to preventative measures taken by the consortium, as well as increased student awareness.
“I think there’s a combination of things,” he said. “We do a lot, and so do the other schools in this consortium, to encourage students to think about their drinking, to plan ahead, to consider using a designated driver.”
The consortium consists of UNM Main Campus, UNM Valencia, New Mexico State University, Eastern New Mexico University, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Santa Fe Community College and San Juan College. The survey measured the alcohol, tobacco and drug use of almost 2,700 students across those campuses.
The study indicates that a higher proportion of students who binge drink suffer academic consequences compared to students who drink moderately. For example, 22 percent of occasional binge drinkers and 37.5 percent of frequent binge drinkers reported performing poorly on a test or important project, while 13 percent of moderate drinkers faced the same consequence.
Occasional binge drinkers are students who reported consuming five or more drinks in one sitting in the last two weeks, while frequent binge drinkers reported imbibing the same amount on two or more occasions in the last two weeks.
The rate of binge drinking in the 2013 report improved enough to put New Mexico in good standing nationally.
“The binge rate was 41 percent in 2008 among all students,” said NMHEPC Coordinator Tiffany Martinez. “In 2013 we went down to 36 percent. Nationally, it’s still at 40 to 41 percent, so we’re a good four or five percentage points below the nation’s drinking rate.”
According to the report, students are also taking more action to protect themselves from drugs and alcohol. Such measures include hanging out with people who drink less or who drink more slowly, having designated drivers and keeping track of the number of drinks they’ve had.
Drinking and driving has also decreased, according to the report.
Almost 71 percent of the state college students surveyed reported they had not gone drinking and driving in the past year.
Steiner said the data was collected from surveys distributed in classrooms at the consortium campuses. He said the consortium keeps track of the school’s demographics to help obtain a representative sample.
“We start out knowing what our demographics are for our various ethnic and racial categories, our gender and everything,” he said. “As we sample, we record that and make sure we’re falling into line with the UNM demographics. If we’re falling out of line, then we can try to tweak ourselves back in … and our demographics reported fairly closely mirror student demographics for undergrads.”
Martinez said she was proud to see such positive results come back from the New Mexico survey.
“I think we did a great job as a consortium and as a whole,” she said.