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Back to School and Binge Drinking on College Campuses

From Recovery (the newsletter of American Council on Alcoholism),
October 1998, Vol. 1, Issue 3.

By John A. Carpenter, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus,
Rutgers. The State University of New Jersey
Board Member, ACA

It is fall and students have returned to college. Because of several widely publicized incidents, one of the growing concerns on college campuses is so-called "binge drinking".

As with so many other words, the term "binge" has, over a period of time, been massaged into meaning something other than its original definition. This change in meaning has created a potential source of confusion.

Marc Schuckit, editor of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, has issued a "guide" to his editorial staff, and hence to authors, in which he affirms the historical use of the term "binge". The Schuckit statement, without alteration, is provided below with his permission. Its original title is "Guidance for authors on the policy of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol regarding the appropriate use of the term binge". ACA agrees with Dr. Schuckit’s statement on the definition of binge, and further support of his position appears in the September 1998 issue of JSA (p. 621) in a letter to the editor from Dr. Sheila B. Blume.

In recent years it has become increasingly apparent that the clinicians and researchers who submit to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol have been using the term "binge" or "binge drinking" to describe quite different phenomena. For instance, while some contributors have simply used a set number of drinks per drinking occasion to define a binge (e.g., 5 drinks in a row for men and 4 drinks in a row for women), others feel that the term "binge" should only be used to describe an extended bout of drinking or other substance abuse (often operationalized as at least 2 days) in which the person neglects other activities in order to drink.

In order avoid the confusion that can potentially arise when different clinical phenomena are being described by the same name, the Journal has now adopted a policy that requires the term "binge" to be used in a specific way in accepted manuscripts. According to the policy, the term "binge"should only be used to describe an extended period of time (usually two or more days) during which a person repeatedly administers alcohol or another substance to the point of intoxication, and gives up his/her usual activities in order to use the substance [emphasis added]. It is the combination of prolonged use and the giving up of usual activities that forms the core of the definition of a "binge".

If authors are using the word "binge"to mean something other than the extended period of intoxication with concomitant neglect of activities/obligations as described above, we ask that they change their terminology. Alternative terms for the word "binge" include "heavy drinking"/"heavy use" or "heavy episodic drinking"/"heavy episodic use".

Authors who retain the term "binge" in the manuscripts must clearly show in the methods sections to their papers that what they are actually measuring is a "binge" as described above (i.e., the several days of extended intoxication with interference in usual obligations and activities).

For more information on the Journal’s definition of this or other terms, authors should contact either the editor or the associate editor assigned to handle their manuscripts.

Journal of Studies on Alcohol
Editorial Office
Center of Alcohol Studies
Rutgers. The State University of New Jersey
P.O. Box 969
Piscataway, NJ 08855-0969
(908) 445-3510

**Portions of the information presented on this page were originally prepared by Michael Haines and Richard Rice and are printed here with their permission.