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April 2, 2004

Fresno State finds its students drink safely
By Jim Steinberg, THE FRESNO BEE

Looking toward spring break, Fresno State released its student behavior survey Thursday, showing that most students drink and behave safely.

Sam Gitchel, social norms program director on campus, discussed the survey of 572 randomly selected California State University, Fresno, students, conducted by the university's Health and Psychological Services.

The survey, which used the services of the National College Health Assessment, found that most Fresno State students do not abuse alcohol.

Gitchel's program provided loud music at noon outside the Student Union for a concert stressing safe drinking and other behavior.

Rudy Guttierrez, 21, stood near the dancing and music and said the program would help him and others act safely during spring vacation, which begins Monday.

"A lot of people listen," he said. "This spreads the word: Drink responsibly. It lets us know before spring break, so we can keep it in mind."

Gitchel said the spring reminder was one of several through the year, and the main point is that "there is a huge overestimation of risky behavior among students."

This is owing in part to advertising messages as well as alarmist warnings against risky behavior. The warnings leave the false suggestion that most people behave dangerously, he said.

The social norms campaign is budgeted at about $75,000 per year, which Gitchel views as a bargain for preventing drinking and drunken-driving deaths.

Among its findings, the survey reported that:

51% of students don't drink any alcohol in a typical month.

5% of students let drinking interfere with studies.

And 74% of students expect to drink alcohol no more than twice during spring break and 32% expect to drink none.

More alarming, the Journal of American College Health found in May 1998 that the average college man said he consumed 18 drinks per day during spring break, the average college woman, 10 drinks. That report said that almost half the men and more than 40% of the women drank until they passed out or became sick.

Gitchel said knowledge of data showing a more moderate approach to drinking at Fresno State tends to modify students' behavior by "giving them the power of peer influence."

The reporter can be reached at or 441-6311.

Copyright 2004 McClatchy Newspapers, Inc.