‘Sesno Reports: America Drinks’ Looks at History and Role of Alcohol

Posted: December 16, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Rey Banks

“We have done more and more. More dollars have been put toward [preventing] abusive drinking by college students, and we have not seen much of a result.” These were the dire words of David Anderson, director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Health at Mason and a professor in the School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism, when he spoke during the latest installation of “Sesno Reports: America Drinks,” which airs Thursday, Dec. 30, at 8 p.m. on WETA TV-26.

“America Drinks,” moderated by Frank Sesno, professor of public policy and communication, veteran journalist, and former CNN Washington bureau chief, brought together a diverse cast of experts for a panel discussion. They included Peter Cressy, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council; Wendy Hamilton, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD); Eric Johnson, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge; Lisa Laitman, director of the Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program for Students at Rutgers University; John McCardell, former president, Middlebury College; Alex Koroknay-Palicz, president, National Youth Rights Association; and Aaron White, PhD, Duke University Medical Center.

Mason students who participated in the program were candid about their personal experiences with alcohol. A few confessed to drinking only to get drunk, and they recounted instances in which they witnessed fellow students so inebriated they required emergency medical attention.

One perspective offered was to lower the legal drinking age and decriminalize underage drinking, with the rationale that 18- and 19-year-olds can vote, sit on juries, and serve in the military in most states. “We call them adults, but when it comes time to have a beer, we tell them they can’t,” said McCardell. His concern was that college campuses have been forced to become either arms of the law or havens from the law. But Hamilton of MADD doesn’t believe raising the drinking age is a good idea. “We would see more alcohol-related fatalities in not only driving, but also suicides, homicides, burns, drownings, and falls. Alcohol is over-represented in deaths of young people in this country.”

One of the most touching accounts came from Catherine Bath, a mother who lost her only son, a junior at Duke University, in an alcohol-related incident. She admitted to being naive about the drinking scene on college campuses and believed that a high-caliber school like Duke University would actually have less drinking. She was wrong. After a night of binging on 25-cent drinks at an off-campus bar, her son became unconscious and died a week later from aspiration pneumonia in intensive care.

Some statistics that emerged from “America Drinks” were that 80 percent of high school seniors have tried alcohol, and four out of five college students drink— half of them, heavily. Studies show that this abuse of alcohol contributes to sexual assaults, violence on campus, property damage, poor academic performance, and lost human potential.

For more information, visit the WETA web site or the washingtonpost.com interactive web site. The next “Sesno Reports” will focus on cancer.

Write to at