The good, the bad and the drunk: Studies show spike in drug and alcohol use, unprotected sex during spring break
College spring break has become synonymous with vacations and partying.
While some students use the week off to unwind from a hectic spring semester with an innocent vacation, relaxation or volunteer work, others are busy partying with drugs, alcohol and sex.
Ten years ago, the American Medical Association (AMA) released a report claiming, “Spring break is no longer an innocent respite from the rigors of college academics; it’s potentially life-threatening.”
Each year, nearly 15 million U.S. college students spend more than $200 billion on spring break vacations, according to Harris Interactive Market Research. Students represent an attractive target market for alcohol companies’ marketing and promotions.
In 1998, the Journal of American College Health reported males averaged 18 drinks a day on spring break, while females averaged 10. Half of all males and 40 percent of all females became sick or passed out due to intoxication. In addition, 97 percent of underage spring breakers reported alcohol consumption.
Stories of students suffering lifethreatening injuries from binge drinking make headlines nearly every year. Date rape, falls from hotel balconies and DUI arrests are common stories in popular resort towns.
Eighty-three percent of college-age respondents in a 2006 American Medical Association poll equated spring break week with more frequent consumption of alcohol in greater quantities.
The consensus among students polled by the AMA was that students use drinking as an “excuse for outrageous behavior” (74 percent).
Coincidentally, 74 percent of AMA respondents also equated spring break week with more sexual activity, and 59 percent said they knew at least one friend who had sex with multiple partners during break. Three in five females surveyed said they knew friends who had unprotected sex during break, and 12 percent said they were pressured or coerced into having sex.
Alcohol isn’t the only drug abused in large quantities. “Club drugs” like MDMA/ecstasy and other stimulants are also prone to abuse.
A 2009 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found a 75 percent increase in ecstasy-induced emergency room visits in five years.
Combining ecstasy with alcohol and other drugs makes use even more dangerous and increases the risks of injury and death, the study found.
In popular U.S. spring break destinations, efforts have been made to reduce the noise level and public intoxication of spring breakers-gone-wild, making non-traditional destinations increasingly popular.
In Mexico, the legal drinking age is 18 and persons may legally possess up to 500 mg of cocaine and five grams of cannabis.
Cancun, the most booked destination, draws an estimated 200,000 tourists during spring break season each year.
In recent years, a surge in gang violence, coupled with a downturn in the U.S. economy, led to a slump in spring break tourism. Hotel occupancy rates in Puerto Vallarta and Cancun dropped as much as 10 percent in each of the past several years, according to local hotel associations.
This year, however, Mexican hotel occupancy is on the upswing. According to online trip planner www.hotwire.com, bookings for Mexican hotels are up 37 percent from the same period in 2011.
Despite the rebound in Mexican spring break tourism, concerns about drug cartel violence and kidnappings led Texas to issue a warning against U.S. visits to its southern neighbor, where killings of Americans jumped from 35 to 70 a year between 2007 and 2011.
Coincidentally, Texas is home to several top domestic spring break designations, including South Padre Island.