MADISON – A national campaign aimed at raising public awareness of the dangers of high risk binge drinking by young people is being launched Friday, September 10, with full-page advertisements appearing in dozens of newspapers around the country and a website providing information about binge drinking on college campus.

The University of Wisconsin System, UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee have signed on to the campaign, launched by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), 113 member institutions, and the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities. The ads will appear in dozens of newspapers across the country including the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune.

The ads feature a mock advertisement for a product called “Binge Beer,” with the sales pitch for the “product” citing negative things associated with excessive alcohol consumption. The website is

University of Wisconsin System President Katharine C. Lyall chaired the Steering Committee for a 1997 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study that provided much of the information used as a basis for the information campaign.

The study surveyed 14,521 students at 116 colleges and universities and found that 43 percent of students met the widely accepted definition for binge drinkers. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in succession for men and four or more for women at a sitting-20 percent of them three or more times in a two-week period.

“The abuse of alcohol is one of the most perplexing problems facing higher education,” said UW System President Lyall. “It jeopardizes the mission of higher education and substantially increases the risk of injury, disease, and death among students.”

Nationally, alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of all academic problems and 28 percent of all dropouts, the Harvard study found. Frequent binge drinkers were found considerably more likely than non-binge drinkers to have

  • Engaged in unplanned sex
  • Not used protection when having sex
  • Missed classes
  • Fallen behind in school work
  • Damaged property
  • Gotten in trouble with police
  • Driven after drinking, or
  • Been injured.

Every campus of the UW System has initiatives that aim to stem alcohol abuse.

The UW-Madison campus is in the middle of a six-year Robert Wood Johnson funded project to change the culture of high-risk drinking at UW-Madison. The central message, designed to replace the “study hard/party hard” atmosphere, is “We’re active citizens of our community and are excited about life and learning. Drinking does not define us.”

Madison is one of a number of campuses launching “social marketing” campaigns to change the image and ideas of what college life can be, and to offer a wider range of nondrinking events both on and off campus.

“Most students want to be responsible. We need to encourage and support them in making responsible choices,” said Lyall.

Other initiatives at UW campuses include:

  • Various forms of free or low cost non-alcoholic entertainment, including concerts, interactive games, dances, movies, sports and games, student organizations and clubs.
  • Birthday cards sent to students just prior to their 21st birthdays, with a guide telling how much alcohol it takes to reach the legal limit and offering tips on how to celebrate safely.
  • Special programming, activities and classes related to alcohol awareness
  • Freshman orientation sessions on alcohol related issues
  • Interactive CD-roms in which a student attends a cyber party and must make choices on behaviors and actions, offering the student an opportunity to explore the possible outcomes of those choices.
  • Alcohol-free programs and activities offered through the residence halls.
  • “Town and gown” partnerships between communities and campuses to address drinking as a community issue.

The national public awareness campaign is being funded through donations by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Barns & Noble, Inc., and through funds contributed by the participating institutions.

“While colleges and universities are taking the lead in this effort, this is not simply a university issue,” said Lyall. “Many of the students who come to our universities are already experienced binge drinkers. My hope is that this public information campaign will engage the support of the general public in addressing this serious public health issue,” said Lyall.


Sharyn Wisniewski
(608) 262-6448