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Taming Thirsty Thursdays

June 12, 2009

For college students who manage to avoid scheduling class on Friday, the weekend often kicks off on "thirsty Thursdays." A new study confirms that those without early Friday classes are much more likely to heavily drink the night before.

The report, presented at the annual forum of the Association for Institutional Research on June 2, is based on the responses of 895 undergraduates at the Loyola College in Maryland in fall 2008. The data come from a broader student lifestyle survey conducted by the institution every three years.

Students without Friday classes reported drinking an average of 3.38 drinks the day before, roughly four times more than those with a Friday class before 10 a.m. Additionally, all students drank more on Thursday, Friday and Saturday than on the other four days of the week. These trends were consistent for respondents across the board, regardless of gender, class year or individual propensity to drink.

The data confirm the notion that students who are free to sleep in on Fridays tend to "treat Thursday as if it were a weekend day, instead of a mid-weekday," said Terra Schehr, assistant vice president for institutional research and effectiveness at Loyola, who analyzed and presented the survey's results.

"One might think that that would be true just for people who are 'heavy drinkers,' but actually what these data show is that that's true for those groups for heavier drinkers as well as groups who are not heavier drinkers," Schehr said. In the survey, the students defined as "problem drinkers" were those who said they typically drank at least three times a week and had at least one blackout as a result.

Among college-age students, binge drinking -- defined as consuming more than five alcoholic beverages within two hours -- has increased since 1998, according to a 2007 study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

In light of Loyola's survey, Schehr says that campus administrators have begun discussing various strategies to, as she calls it, "reclaim Fridays." One idea is to assign more homework due that day.

"We know students procrastinate," she said. "Give them to do something on Thursday nights that would be other than engaging in heavy drinking."

Another idea is to schedule more Friday morning classes, particularly before 10 a.m., but Schehr says that option can be overly complicated. "Putting together course schedules and finding space and faculty for a university our size is a very logistically difficult task, period," she said. "And then when you try and change that process, that is very difficult."

The University of Iowa has tried just that. In 2007, the campus announced it would offer academic departments $20 for every student enrolled in Friday morning classes, with the intention of discouraging "thirsty Thursdays."

But Sarah Hong, a rising senior at the university, says the plan has hardly made a dent in her social calendar. The 21-year-old English major says she never scheduled classes before 2:30 p.m. on Fridays in the first place: "I don't like morning classes anyway."

As for her friends whose majors did require them to take classes early on Fridays, Hong said, "I guess it did make them drink less on Thursday nights."

"But I think they were fine," she added, "because they could just go out Friday night and Saturday night."

 

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