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How To Reduce High-Risk College Drinking: Use Proven Strategies, Fill Research Gaps

Current State of Practice

Prevention work in public health is often guided by a social ecological framework. This approach recognizes that any health-related behavior, including college student drinking, is affected by multiple levels of influence such as intrapersonal (individual) factors, interpersonal (group) processes, institutional factors, community factors, and public policies (DeJong and Langford, 2002; Stokols, 1996). Health promotion research shows that a strategically planned approach with a range of interventions directed at multiple levels of influence increases the likelihood of success. Appendix 2, “Typology: A Theoretical Framework for Alcohol Prevention Initiatives,” provides an example of the varied types of strategies and activities that can be combined to provide multiple sources of support for reducing high-risk drinking.

Absence of a Comprehensive Approach

On most campuses, however, prevention efforts have concentrated on affecting the individual and group levels, with some attention paid to the institutional level. Less attention has been paid to factors in the local community that affect student alcohol use, and calls by campus officials for changes in State or Federal policy remain rare (DeJong and Langford, 2002).

Institutions have most often employed interventions intended to change knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intentions; few take a comprehensive approach (Larimer and Cronce, 2002). A recent survey of college and university administrators found that most institutions have not yet put in place the basic infrastructure needed to develop, implement, or evaluate a comprehensive approach (DeJong and Langford, 2002). For example, almost all respondents (97.6 percent) to the Higher Education Center Survey of College Administrators reported that their school’s orientation program for new students presents information about alcohol and other drug policies and programs. However, educating students by infusing alcohol-related topics into the general curriculum was much less in evidence (Higher Education Center, 1998); and, apart from some special focus on freshmen, Greek-affiliated students, and athletes, most schools did not usually tailor efforts for different student groups (Anderson and Gadaleto, 2001). Although some schools ban alcohol advertising from the school newspaper, the 1997 College Alcohol Survey found that 75 percent of responding institutions allow newspaper alcohol ads, as do 40 percent of campus radio stations (Anderson and Gadaleto, 2001). Very few schools have changed their academic calendars in an effort to change the alcohol culture by scheduling more early morning classes, regularly scheduling exams on Fridays to reduce the Thursday “party night” mentality, shortening the time between final exams and graduation, or eliminating Spring Break (Higher Education Center, 1998).

Controls on Alcohol Availability

Surveys differ on the extent of control institutions say they exercise over alcohol availability. For example, over half of responding institutions in the Higher Education Center survey reported offering substance-free social events, and 83 percent said they had student housing where alcohol use is banned at all times. Nearly three-fourths said they had programs in place to control alcohol availability (Higher Education Center, 1998). In contrast, the 1997 College Alcohol Survey found that less than one-third of schools had some or all alcohol-free residence halls. Nearly half said there were places on campus where individuals can purchase alcohol by the drink, and drinking beer and hard liquor is permitted on two-thirds or more campuses (Anderson and Gadaleto, 2001).

Program Evaluation

In the 1997 College Alcohol Survey more than half of respondents reported having a task force or partnership with the surrounding community to address alcohol-related concerns, but only 39 percent had conducted a formal assessment of the effectiveness of their alcohol effort (Anderson and Gadaleto, 2001). In the Higher Education Center survey only 19.8 percent reported formal evaluations (Higher Education Center, 1998).

Overall, the extent of alcohol-related initiatives on campus does not appear to have changed through the mid-1990s. In a 1998 Survey of College Administrators conducted by the Higher Education Center, fully 81.1 percent of the respondents reported that “hard money” (non-grant) funding for their school’s alcohol and other drug prevention programs had remained the same during the past 3 years (Higher Education Center, 1998; DeJong and Langford, 2002). In a separate survey of administrators conducted in 2000, 89 percent reported “great or some increase” in the “extent of alcohol education and prevention efforts on their campus compared with several years ago,” but increased funding did not appear to accompany the reported increase in level of effort (Anderson and Gadaleto, 2001). Although surveys over time have found some modest progress at some institutions, overall, the outlook has changed little since 1975.

 

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Historical document
Last reviewed: 9/23/2005


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