College Students and Alcohol College student drunkenness is far from new and neither are college and university efforts to control it. What is new, however, is the potential to make real progress on this age-old problem based on scientific research results. New research-based information about the consequences of high-risk college drinking and how to reduce it can empower colleges and universities, communities, and other interested organizations to take effective action. Hazardous drinking among college students is a widespread problem that occurs on campuses of all sizes and geographic locations. A recent survey of college students conducted by the Harvard University School of Public Health reported that 44 percent of respondents had drunk more than five drinks (four for women) consecutively in the previous two weeks.
About 23 percent had had three or more such episodes during that time. The causes of this problem are the fact that students are living by themselves no longer with parents or guardians; they earn their own money; students need to be a part of a group, be accepted; and they have the wrong idea that to feel drunk is "cool". Although high-risk drinkers are a minority in all ethnic groups, their behavior is far from a harmless "rite of passage". In fact, drinking has pervasive consequences that compel our attention.
The most serious consequence of high-risk college drinking is death. The U.S. Department of Education has evidence that at least 84 college students have died since 1996 because of alcohol poisoning or related injury-and they believe the actual total is higher because of incomplete reporting. When alcohol-related traffic crashes and off-campus injuries are taken into consideration, it is estimated that over 1,400 college students die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries. Additionally, over 500,000 full-time students sustain nonfatal unintentional injuries, and 600,000 are hit or assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
Administrators are well aware of the burden alcohol presents to the campus environment. In addition, the 1997, 1999, and 2001 Harvard surveys found that the majority of students living in dorms and Greek residences, who do not drink excessively, still experience day-to-day problems as a result of other students' misuse of alcohol. The prevalence of these "secondhand effects" varies across campuses according to how many students on the campus engage in high-risk drinking. Effects include interrupted study or sleep, need to care for a drunken student, insults or humiliation, serious arguments or quarrels, unwanted sexual advances, property damage, personal attacks such as pushing, hitting, or assault and sexual assault or date rape. There is a significant number of individual- and group-focused, environmental, comprehensive college-community, and program-implementation strategies that college presidents and administrators could use confidently today to diminish this problem. Many of them require no new resources and only modest costs even being long-term actions.
The media is the most important element of the environment that can influence college student drinking. Research addresses the effects of media on drinking from two perspectives: combating the negative impact of advertising from the alcohol industry and using the media constructively to create positive change. Underage individuals experience significant exposure to alcohol advertising which increases awareness and affects intention to drink. This has led some public health groups to conclude that there is a link between advertising and alcohol consumption. This action is pretty valuable if the students can help colleges and universities to make a conscious effort to help other students.
The Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study shows that peers have the greatest influence on student norms. When peer norms appear to encourage immoderate drinking, consumption goes up. Regardless of gender, ethnic group, residential circumstance, and Greek affiliation, most students believe that their peers hold more permissive attitudes about drinking than they actually do. Likewise, they believe that their peers drink more heavily than they do. The strategy of communicating actual student norms to dispel myths, referred to as the "social norms approach", is receiving increased attention due to its simplicity, cost efficiency, and effects. The basic idea is to convey the truth about what the majority of students actually think and do concerning alcohol consumption.
This approach gives students a positive message. It says that the norms are safety, responsibility, and moderation because these are the thoughts and behaviors of most students on virtually every campus. Social norm interventions can publicize data about actual drinking norms in orientation programs, student newspaper ads and articles, radio programs, lectures, campus poster campaigns, and other public venues (social norms marketing). These activities can clarify the misconceptions of the general student body and of those students at high risk for alcohol-related problems. Programs can also target the most problem-prone groups (first-year students, fraternity or sorority members, athletes) for special attention.
Workshops can help these students confront their own misconceptions of peer use and can facilitate discussions about student norms as identified in group assessments and campus-wide studies. Another thing that should be done by universities and colleges is increase screening and outreach programs to identify students who could benefit from alcohol-related services. In addition, universities and colleges need to train those who regularly interact with students, such as resident advisors, coaches, peers, and faculty, to identify problems and link students with intervention services and / or provide brief motivational interventions. This allows them to improve services without adding new staff.
As a fourth step, universities and colleges should use educational interventions that provide new information such as describing alcohol-related programs and policies, informing students about drinking-and-driving laws, and explaining how to care for peers who show signs of alcohol poisoning. At Illinois Wesleyan, officials use an evidence-based practice model. Freshmen and transfer students are required to take an online alcohol-education course. Those institutions have to avoid the use of educational efforts focused primarily on facts about alcohol and associated harm as a sole programmatic response to student drinking.
They have proven to be ineffective. And finally, colleges and universities have to be inclusive of varied student subpopulations. They need to determine and address the special needs of groups such as racial / ethnic minorities, women, athletes, Greeks, students of different ages, and gay and lesbian students. Initial results from programs adopting an intensive social norms approach are promising. Several institutions that persistently communicated accurate norms have experienced reductions of up to 20 percent in high-risk drinking over a relatively short time.
Together these findings provide strong support for the potential impact of the social norms approach. Although any case report in this text could be challenged methodologically, the results of each study are remarkably consistent. Nobody can control what students do, but colleges and universities can make them conscious about what is right and wrong or good and bad. This information allows students to act based on their opinions, not just drink because it is prohibited. To make students became responsible adults is the best way to combat binge drinking.