COLUMBIA — This is one battle of the sexes that neither men nor women want to win. It's the battle over which sex is being cited more often for drug and alcohol violations at MU. And the winners are men.
MU's Department of Residential Life and the MU Police Department document alcohol and drug violations committed by MU students. From 2007 to 2009, men were caught breaking drug and alcohol rules in residence halls about twice as often as women. They were arrested just more than 3.5 times as often as women.
A survey conducted by the MU Wellness Resource Center asked male and female students to report their drinking habits. Female students at MU have consistently outnumbered male students since 1992, and from 2007 to 2009, women made up about 53 percent of the student population each year. Here are the survey findings.
- 2007: 81.8 percent of men and 77.5 percent of women said they drink.
- 2008: 81.4 percent of men and 79.1 percent of women said they drink.
- 2009: 82.6 percent of men and 80 percent of women said they drink.
The Centers for Disease Control in 2007, 2008 and 2009 asked 18- to 24-year-old men and women whether they drink. Here's what they found:
- 2007: 65.8 percent of men and 59.4 percent of women said they drink.
- 2008: 69 percent of men and 58.3 percent of women said they drink.
- 2009: 65.9 percent of men and 58.1 percent of women said they drink.
The Missouri College Health Behavior Survey asked MU students to report their use of marijuana and other illicit drugs. Other illicit drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, inhalants and "club drugs." Rates of reported use for illicit drugs are shown as ranges because of the differing numbers of respondents who indicated they use each type of drug.
Here are the findings from 2007 to 2009.
- 2007: 23 percent of men and 11 percent of women reported using marijuana; 0.5 percent to 2 percent of men and 0.2 percent to 2 percent of women reported using other illicit drugs.
- 2008: 18 percent of men and 9 percent of women reported using marijuana; 0.4 percent to 3 percent of men and 0.3 percent to 1 percent of women reported using other illicit drugs.
- 2009: 24 percent of men and 10 percent of women reported using marijuana; 0 percent to 2 percent of men and 0 percent to 0.4 percent of women reported using other illicit drugs.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which contributes some information to CDC reports, in 2007, 2008 and 2009 asked 18- to 25-year-old men and women whether they use illicit drugs. Illicit drugs in this survey included marijuana/hashish, cocaine, crack, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants and prescription-type medicine used nonmedicinally. Here's what it found and reported for the years 2007 to 2009.
- 2007: 37.2 percent of men and 29.1 percent of women reported using drugs.
- 2008: 36.9 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women reported using drugs.
- 2009: 41.1 percent of men and 30.9 percent of women reported using drugs.
These counts were drawn from Clery Reports, which document annual campus crime, and from records provided by MU Police and by Kristen Temple, associate director of Residential Academic Programs. They include all B8 violations from 2007 to 2009.
The MU conduct handbook defines B8 violations as the "manufacture, use, possession, sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages or any controlled substance without proper prescription or required license or as expressly permitted by law or University regulations, including operating a vehicle on University property, or on streets or roadways adjacent to and abutting a campus, under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance as prohibited by law of the state of Missouri."
B8 violations can include being a minor in possession of alcohol. A 21-year-old, however, can receive a referral for bringing beer or liquor on campus, despite legally possessing it. The latter would not be documented in the Clery Report, which only includes criminal offenses.
From 2007 to 2009, MU Police logged 1,189 student arrests for drugs and alcohol. Residential Life reported more than 1,900 referrals. About 5 percent of the referrals from Residential Life were handled by the Office of Student Conduct, which deals with students who do not live in university housing.
An additional 669 referrals not counted in the Clery Reports are attributed to MU Police in Temple's records. Temple said the difference involves situations in which students documented on police reports, but not arrested, received referrals from the Office of Student Conduct for violating MU conduct codes.
Across MU’s 23 coed residential buildings, men racked up more overall violations than women from 2007 to 2009. Sixteen buildings recorded double the number of violations by men than by women. Jones, Lathrop and Johnston halls, the three buildings that house only female students, were the only ones to report more violations by women than by men.
Temple estimated that 10 percent to 15 percent of those violations would not be reported as drug or alcohol offenses in the Clery Report. This is because not all conduct violations are illegal, though acts associated with them, such as vandalism, can be. These are counted as other offenses in the report.
In arrests or referrals recorded at street locations, men were cited about 2.6 times more often than women, according to Temple's records.
“If the question is, 'Do men drink more than women?' then the answer is yes,” said Kim Dude, assistant director of MU’s Wellness Resource Center. “It’s true not just on our campus but nationwide.” Dude said the same principle applies for drug use.
Reports point to national trend
National crime reporting supports Dude’s assertions and suggests the ratio of men to women represented in campus crime is in line with national trends.
Municipal crime reports from 2007 to 2009 voluntarily submitted to the FBI show that men were arrested for drug and alcohol violations about 3.8 times more often than women in 40 cities similar in size to Columbia. Among those same cities, the average ratio of male to female arrests for drugs and alcohol is about 4 to 1.
Columbia did not submit reports for 2007, but in 2008 and 2009, men were arrested for drugs and alcohol about three times as often as women, and the average male-to-female ratio for these crimes over these years was 3 to 1.
Those numbers, however, run counter to survey data that suggest a smaller disparity in the numbers of college-age men and women who drink and use illicit drugs.
Reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that on average, about 8.4 percent fewer women than men surveyed in 2007, 2008 and 2009 admitted using drugs. The Missouri College Health Behavior Study conducted similar studies in the same year and found much smaller differences, except in the use of marijuana. An average of about 21 percent of men and 10 percent of women reported using marijuana.
Similar reports by the MU Wellness Center and the Centers for Disease Control from 2007 to 2009 show the average difference in drinking rates between college-age men and women was 3.1 and 8.3 percent, respectively.
Difference could be related to gender behavior, roles
MU Police have declined to comment on the gender disparity in both their reports and in Clery numbers.
MU Police Capt. Scott Richardson said arrests always start with an officer establishing probable cause to stop or search a person.
Capt. Brian Weimer said he wouldn't speculate whether men more often engage in behavior that would warrant a stop or search, but he recalled reading literature suggesting men are more prone to come in contact with officers while driving.
Dude and Temple speculated that men might attract police attention more often because they tend to be louder and sometimes physically rougher than women when they drink. Dude, however, said she could not speculate about behavior under the influence of drugs because different drugs can alter behavior in different ways.
“Police will tell you they look for behavior that draws a lot of attention to itself, like yelling, stumbling around,” Dude said. Other conduct that tends to make men more vulnerable to arrest includes fighting, vandalizing property or urinating in public.
“We, as women, are socialized to follow the rules for the most part,” Temple said. “Even when we don’t follow the rules, we’re socialized to be sneaky about it.”
Researchers at MU, Arizona State University and the University of Kentucky have explored these behavioral trends.
MU psychology professor David Geary said his findings support the idea that men are more vulnerable to arrests or bad conduct while drinking.
“People have known about the gap for a long time,” Geary said. "I’ve argued ... that it has a biological contribution to it, testosterone in particular, but also increased tendencies to take risks has to do with establishing yourself in the group.”
Risks, as Geary refers to them, include drinking heavily, driving while intoxicated, fighting or showing off.
Geary, who in 2009 wrote the book "Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences," explained the difference mainly in terms of evolutionary traits specific to men and women. Drinking rates might be similar, he said, but men and women behave differently when drunk.
The difference in drug usage between genders could be related to the way men and women assess costs and benefits, Geary said. Men tend to consider the benefits, such as the positive way a drug might make them feel, while women tend to consider the costs, such as health effects or being arrested.
Julie and Craig Nagoshi of Arizona State University, who both study substance use among men and women, said the difference in arrests has a lot to do with gender roles.
“It is considered much more acceptable for boys … to use illicit drugs without social consequences,” said Julie Nagoshi, who has studied gender differences in adolescent drug use. “Using drugs for women is incompatible with their gender role.”
She said men and boys generally are more likely to engage in bad behavior, and drugs are an extension of that.
Craig Nagoshi, who teaches a course about addiction, said when women use substances, they tend to be at home self-medicating and are less likely to do things that would get them noticed by police.
“In general, men use substances for externalizing reasons such as sensation-seeking or for thrills,” he said.
“Using drugs is like bungee jumping off the side of a cliff,” Julie Nagoshi said. “Alcohol and drugs are all part of those thrill-seeking behaviors.”
She echoed Geary, saying testosterone plays a physiological role in male risk-taking as well.
Alcohol connected to aggression, inappropriate behavior
Drinking appeared to be a significant factor in two highly-publicized episodes of race-related vandalism at MU over the past two years.
Sean Fitzgerald, one of the students charged in the 2010 cotton ball incident, had been drinking, his attorney said in a previous Missourian article. Benjamin Elliott, the student charged with second-degree property damage in connection with racist graffiti sprayed at Hatch Hall, told police he was drunk when he acted. Although contempt for the alcohol "excuse" was evident in community discussion of those incidents, research suggests a significant correlation between alcohol and illegal activity.
Peter Giancola, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kentucky, has conducted multiple studies on alcohol's effects on aggression.
“Research shows that women are going to be less severe in the type of aggression they show,” Giancola said. “It might be a slap in the face, a soft punch in the arm, a shove. At worst it might be throwing something light at somebody. Whereas with a man, it might be a very hard punch in the face that might draw blood or knock out a tooth.”
People who are drinking are more easily provoked to violence, and alcohol exaggerates the response, especially in men, Giancola said.
"If you’re sober and I’m provoking you, you can hold it together pretty well. If you’re drunk and I’m provoking you at the same level, you’re pretty likely to react violently,” he said.
Giancola said alcohol limits a person's perspective in confrontational situations. The principle is called alcohol myopia, which suggests that alcohol causes a person to focus on behavior that is most “attention-grabbing."
“If someone under the influence of alcohol is being provoked, he or she can’t pay attention to the bouncer at the door or remember that they’re on parole,” he said.
Geary agreed, saying such tunnel vision can amplify responses, especially among those already prone to violence. "(People who drink) are less inhibited, so whatever tendencies there are when (they’re) not drinking will show themselves more intensely.”
“We can extend all of this to everything else,” Giancola said of the findings. “That includes increased likelihood of risky sex, drunk driving and all of what we call disinhibited behaviors.”
Giancola said the strongest factor in alcohol-induced aggression, however, is personality. If a person is naturally empathetic or aggressive, those traits will be more influential than almost any level of provocation.
The Nagoshis agreed, saying personality is also one of the most important determinants of illicit drug use and the illegal acts one might commit while under the influence.
“The drug does have an effect on behavior; you can’t deny that,” Craig Nagoshi said. “Some drugs are more powerful than others at disinhibiting. Personality is another factor, and they all interact.”
Other research focuses on the ways men and women metabolize alcohol. Martin Mumenthaler of Stanford University, who has studied the interaction of drugs with the body, wrote in a 1999 report about the effects of alcohol that women eliminate alcohol faster than men.
“You could hypothesize that men are more likely to be arrested in a drunken state,” he said. “And because women are not drunk for as long, you could hypothesize that they are less likely to be arrested.”
Messages influence behavior even while intoxicated
Some research shows that alcohol actually can make people behave more appropriately in some situations. Giancola conducted a study this year in which drunk and sober participants were placed in rooms with different imagery meant to convey a message. Some were shown pictures of baby animals or sobering photographs of human suffering, images that were considered aggression-inhibiting, while others were shown photographs designed to promote violence.
“We found that (drunk) people in the room with the aggression-inhibiting imagery were so nonaggressive, they were even less aggressive than sober people.”
A similar study done in 2000 by Tara MacDonald, an associate professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Canada, examined how messages might influence whether a person engages in risky sex. Male and female participants’ hands were stamped with one of three messages: a smiley face, the words “safe sex” or “AIDS kills.”
Each participant was asked whether he or she went home and “hooked up” with someone. Those who were intoxicated and had “AIDS kills” stamped on their hand were least likely to have done so. Giancola said alcohol myopia caused those people to focus on the AIDS message.
In the cases cited by MU Police and Residential Life, it might not be that students are receiving messages that encourage bad behavior, but the lack of strong cautionary messages reduces the chance that alcohol will improve behavior.
In a spectrum of illegal behavior, Giancola said, sober people are always in the middle. The people most likely to break the law are the ones with nothing telling them to stop.
"The most prudent people are the ones who are drunk but bombarded with messages telling them that there will be consequences for those illegal behaviors," he said.
The Sunshine request for this story was funded by Spot.Us, a nonprofit news organization that supports independent journalism.