CORRECTION: This story originally contained incorrect information about University of Colorado students' drinking habits. CU officials say Assistant Vice Chancellor Donald Misch misspoke when he addressed the City Council about a national survey of student drinking habits. That survey found that 15.6 percent of students drank seven or more drinks the last time they socialized. At CU, that figure is 23 percent, not "twice as high," as Misch told the council. Nationally, 34.1 percent drank five or more drinks in a sitting at least once in the previous two weeks. At CU, it's 47 percent. 


Boulder's land use code and rules for establishments that serve alcohol could have a role to play in reducing drinking among University of Colorado students, City Council members said Tuesday night.

The Boulder City Council heard a presentation from Donald Misch, director of the Wardenburg Health Center at CU and assistant vice chancellor for health and wellness, as well as Linda Cooke, chief judge of the municipal court, which handles underage drinking tickets.

City Councilman Ken Wilson called the presentation "sobering, pun intended" and said it would contribute to a discussion next week about what actions the city should take.

"We are going to be struggling with changing some of our alcohol-related land use codes," he said.

Mayor Matt Appelbaum said a discussion about where and under what conditions Boulder allows alcohol to be served has been in the works for a long time. City Manager Jane Brautigam is looking for feedback from the City Council on what options are worth developing further, he said.


The city could target the density of alcohol establishments. Officials also may reconsider the long-standing practice of exempting University Hill from the ban on liquor establishments within 500 feet of a school.

Any changes would not affect existing businesses, which would be grandfathered in, and any ideas that garner favor with the City Council would go back to the Planning Board and through a public process.

Misch said CU students have rates of binge drinking that are higher than the national average. Exactly why is unclear.

CU's reputation as a party school may attract students who want to party, creating a self-reinforcing cycle, he said. On the other hand, middle school and high school students in Colorado drink at higher rates than their counterparts around the country, and those in Boulder County drink more than in other parts of the state.

Cooke said Boulder parents who think they're keeping their kids safe by allowing them to drink at home may be contributing to a culture that encourages underage drinking and drinking to excess.

Misch said alcohol is linked to almost every other risk faced by college students, from academic and legal troubles to accidental death and physical and sexual assault.

"The greatest threat your child faces in college is probably alcohol," he said.

Cooke and Misch said reducing alcohol abuse will require changing the entire culture around alcohol consumption, including excessive drinking by adults.

Educating students about the dangers of alcohol abuse is actually one of the least effective techniques for reducing drinking, Cooke said. Strict enforcement of underage drinking and drunken driving laws is somewhat effective when done in conjunction with other policies.

Cooke said studies in the field of "environmental management" show that the most effective way to reduce drinking is to raise the price of alcohol -- usually through taxes.

"I realize there are a lot of students here with a lot of wealth, but as we've seen with tobacco, there's a tipping point at which people start to drop off," she said.

Boulder also has a lot of establishments that serve alcohol, she said.

"We have a very robust tavern and bar community," Cooke said. "That's a good thing that many of us enjoy, but it also means we have a lot of points of access."

Cooke said studies have found that actions like reducing hours at bars do not lead to an increase in drinking at home.

The City Council members did not get into details about what changes to rules and land use codes they would like to see. They'll take up that discussion next week.

Appelbaum said the information in the presentation would provide important background in next week's discussion.

"This is very, very helpful as we try to sort through this," he said. "Some of the land use issues we'll be dealing with are not trivial."

Misch said there is no one thing that will reduce drinking at CU.

"There's not a magic bullet, but there is a constellation of community actions around hours, enforcement, land use that can have an impact," he said.