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Instruction is resuming on college campuses in Nebraska and Iowa, and it’s important for schools to help students develop a responsible understanding of alcohol use.

Drinking can raise big risks for students, especially when taken to the extreme. Irresponsible alcohol use can short-circuit a student’s academic or athletic performance. It can create situations leading to unprotected sex and accusations of sexual assault. It can lead a student to get behind the wheel of a vehicle when it’s dangerous to do so or put a student at risk of alcohol poisoning.

Such consequences are shattering to a young person’s life. Here are statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

» Nationally, more than 1,500 college-age students die each year from alcohol-related injuries such as motor vehicle crashes, and 599,000 are injured.

» Some 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.

» Alcohol is a factor in 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape annually.

» Nineteen percent meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence.

“New students appear most likely to initiate or increase alcohol use during their first six weeks of college, as they adjust to new social and academic expectations,” the state Department of Health and Human Services cautions.

Students, whether freshmen or seniors, are not passive agents in this matter. They have an important obligation to act responsibly, for the sake of themselves and others. This includes showing respect for others. The complaints in the Gifford Park area about loud outdoor partying provide a local example.

Parents can help by talking to their child beforehand about alcohol issues.

Colleges and universities commendably put a spotlight on alcohol issues. Creighton University, for example, requires all first-year students to take an online session with information about its alcohol and sexual misconduct policies, alcohol use and abuse, illegal substance use and dating violence.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha provides parents with information about alcohol-related discussions and explains its alcohol policies to students. Omaha police regularly patrol the campus and, as needed, issue tickets for minors in possession.

“When students realize that they’re not alone in either abstaining from alcohol or, at the very least, controlling their drinking,” UNO says, “they feel more comfortable declining the invitation to drink at social events.”

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has made a concerted effort to address alcohol issues, providing students with a wide range of information. A UNL task force in 2016 developed a set of strategies for a stepped-up effort. “No matter your role, you can help,” UNL says. “Faculty, staff, parents and peers can influence alcohol use.”

Surveys indicate progress in student awareness at UNL. Some examples:

» More than 24% of UNL students say they have never used alcohol.

» Nearly 47% of students set a number in advance of drinks they plan to consume.

» More than 84% of UNL students use a designated driver when they party or socialize.

Alcohol use has been a challenge for universities worldwide for centuries. Each new academic year brings a new opportunity to understand and address it, including at institutions in Nebraska and Iowa.

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