BOSTON -- A high percentage of college binge drinkers are white males under the legal drinking age of 21 who find cheap or free alcohol at fraternity parties or local bars, according to a new study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
''Students today come to college expecting to drink,'' said Henry Wechsler, director of Harvard's College Alcohol Studies Program. ''They think that's what you're supposed to do in college, and they find plenty of ways to do it.''
Researchers found that underage students either have older friends buy for them or frequent local bars and on-campus parties where they can buy beers for as little as $1 each.
''There's always someone who will buy for you,'' said Craig Lareau, 18, of Westborough, who graduated from high school this year and will enter college in the fall. ''And there are bars I can go to that would let me.''
The study, to be released Monday, found students who are over 21 tend to drink more often, but underage drinkers are more likely to binge.
Sixty-three percent of underage students had been drinking at least once in the past 30 days, and 42 percent of those who had been drinking had at least five drinks each time. In contrast, 74 percent of students 21 or older said they had been drinking in the past month, but only 27 percent had five drinks or more.
Helen Stubbs, spokeswoman for the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, said harsh penalties are needed for older people who provide young people with alcohol, and the owners of bars that regularly serve young drinkers.
''We need to hold the licensed sellers responsible, and to put some teeth to those laws,'' she said.
The study polled more than 7,000 students under 21 and nearly 5,000 students over 21 at 116 colleges around the country.
Forty-nine percent of white students said they had participated in binge drinking, while only 16 percent of black students and 24 percent of Asian-American students had.
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