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Substance use among students has stayed relatively unchanged from two years ago, according to a recent Herald poll. The data also showed that more males used marijuana than females and that more upperclassmen used alcohol than freshmen.

The poll found that 77.9 percent of students used alcohol in the month before the poll — which was administered between Nov. 2 and Nov. 4 — 32.3 percent used marijuana and 18.3 percent used tobacco.  Prescription painkillers (3.9 percent), amphetamines (3.8 percent) and cocaine (2.6 percent) were the next-most prevalent substances used in the one-month period. These results were nearly identical to those of the fall 2007 Herald poll.
Mischa Steiner '10, head of Brown's chapter of Students for a Sustainable Drug Policy, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald that he thought certain drugs are more commonly used at specific points in the academic year.

Amphetamine use "would be much higher around finals, and cocaine use would be much higher around Spring Weekend," Steiner wrote. "Especially for drugs such as mushrooms and acid, I think the one-month period doesn't give an accurate use rate, since even a regular user of acid often doesn't use as often as once a month."

Director of Health Education Frances Mantak '88 said the figures are consistent with similar polling done by Health Services, but added that certain data might be skewed due to the face-to-face administering of The Herald's survey.

"The importance of what our peers think about us is very real," Mantak said, adding that students sometime exaggerate their alcohol use. "Students perceive that others drink more than they actually do."

Mantak said she doubted that so many more students used marijuana than tobacco in the last month.

"I would be curious about the stigma of admitting to tobacco use as compared to using marijuana," she said. "Some people believe there are no health effects related to marijuana while they are clear about the negative repercussions of tobacco."

The Herald poll found that 39.1 percent of males reported using marijuana in the time period, but only 26.4 percent of females did the same.

Steiner wrote that the finding "applies to drug use in general: men are more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior than women."

Mantak said these patterns could be tied to other substance abuse disparities between genders. She cited body size, body composition and levels of liver enzymes as possible reasons for the disparity.

"College males drink more than females, so it's not surprising in light of those consistent statistics," she said.

The gender gap in marijuana use was not surprising, said one male student.
"Guys get very into the methods behind smoking pot," said Avery Houser '12. "The rolling papers, the blunts, the vapes — the whole pervasiveness of the methodology leads to a machismo effect. Which guy owns the vape or who can roll the best joint becomes very important."

According to the survey, a significantly higher number of non-freshmen reported drinking alcohol in the period than first-years, 82.8 percent to 67.8 percent.

"Older students are probably drinking more frequently, but not drinking to the point where they would have any regrets," Mantak said, adding that there was "a learning process" for freshman drinkers. "With younger students, drinking is more episodic. Students may not drink for a month but then may drink in a way that problems might be experienced."
Both Mantak and Senior Associate Dean for Student Life Allen Ward said they were pleased at the lower level of freshman drinking.

"We encourage all students to abide by the laws of Rhode Island," Ward said. Speaking specifically about first-years, he added, "During orientation, the message we try to deliver is to make wise decisions around alcohol, plan in advance, think about how you will handle and manage alcohol."

The statistics seemed reasonable to some students.

"Last year, I drank a lot more in the beginning," said Bryan Coleman '12. "I could see how older students drink more.  They have a better handle on life and their schedule, so they can find more time to go out and party."

Houser said, "Last year, we would drink to get drunk on the weekends. But this year there's rarely a night that goes by where I don't have at least a beer. It becomes much more an upperclassman's life, but not to the point of drunkenness as much."

The Herald poll was conducted from Nov. 2 through Nov. 4 and has a 3.6 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. For male-only data and female-only data, the margins of error were 5.2 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively. For freshman-only data and non-freshman data, the margins of error were 6.9 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively. A total of 687 Brown undergraduates completed the poll, which The Herald administered as a written questionnaire to students in the University Mail Room at J. Walter Wilson during the day and in the Sciences Library at night.


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