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College Drinking Prevention - Changing the Culture

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Recommendations for NIAAA

One of the Task Force's most important tasks is to recommend activities and research that NIAAA could sponsor to support colleges and universities in their efforts to change the culture of drinking on campus. Backed by the NIH reputation for rigorous scientific research, NIAAA is in a unique position to foster careful studies of underage and excessive college drinking. Results from such efforts would enable campus and community policymakers to speak with greater confidence about the causes and consequences of the problem and its possible solutions. The Task Force urges NIAAA and the Congress to expand funding to support these vital research endeavors on as many campuses as possible.

From the Task Force's perspective, NIAAA should assume primary responsibility for:

  • Supporting the research community's efforts to address existing knowledge gaps and alter the culture of drinking on campus;
     
  • Facilitating long-term, campus-community research aimed at preventing hazardous student drinking; and
     
  • Imparting what is known about the patterns of college drinking and the quality of current interventions to encourage college presidents, administrators, and other campus and community leaders to adopt policies and implement strategies based on research.

The Task Force grouped its recommendations for NIAAA by these three functional areas.

(1) Supporting Development of Improved Research Methods

Improved data collection and extrapolation methods will help equip college administrators to assess the dimensions of the problem on their campuses and understand their situation in comparison to others. To support this activity, the Task Force recommends that NIAAA:

  • Design and implement one national surveillance and data system for all colleges and universities to establish reliable estimates of the magnitude of the problem; provide mechanisms to track nationwide changes; assist colleges in monitoring their own campuses; and facilitate intercampus research.
     
  • Take the leadership role in working with other relevant agencies and organizations, researchers, and college administrators to support development of a range of state-of-the-art screening and assessment measures for use by colleges as well as researchers.
The Need for Longitudinal Studies

The overwhelming majority of studies on college student drinking assess students at a single point in time. Although these "cross-sectional" snapshots provide useful information concerning the extent that two factors—such as heavy drinking and fraternity membership—are correlated, they cannot specify the nature of the causal relationship between the two. For example, if heavy drinking is associated with fraternity memberships, it could be because:
  • Greek residence life facilitates drinking (i.e., socialization);
  • Heavier drinkers differentially affiliate with Greek organizations because of the drinking opportunities they may afford (i.e., selection); or
  • Other factors such as personality traits promote both affiliation and drinking.

Only by prospectively following individual students and assessing them on multiple occasions can researchers begin to uncover the likely direction of influence, if any, between drinking behavior and its correlates.

(2) Facilitating Lengthy and Complex Research

The Task Force recommends that NIAAA assist colleges and universities by providing guidance and consultation on the implementation of longitudinal studies and joint campus and community-based initiatives designed to alter the larger environment as it affects student drinking. Such studies are complicated to implement and require a greater commitment of resources than those highlighted above. However, they also have the potential to change the landscape permanently by providing conclusive evidence of the long-term consequences of hazardous student drinking and reducing tolerance for it at all levels of the campus-community environment.

The Task Force recommends that NIAAA:

  • Pursue longitudinal studies of youth—beginning early in adolescence (7th grade) and continuing into young adulthood—to obtain information about such important issues as the development of alcohol problems over time and their longer-term consequences.
     
  • Support research on the effectiveness of joint campus-and community-based coalitions in reducing underage and excessive drinking. Coalitions could include alcohol wholesalers and retailers as well as college presidents, campus and community leaders, and policymakers. Coalition activities could also span the continuum of program possibilities from strategies designed to address those social norms and characteristics of the campus-community environment that influence student drinking to the provision of alcohol prevention and treatment services.
     
  • Partner with other Federal and State agencies and national organizations to support campuses interested in implementing joint campus- and community-based initiatives.
     
  • Organize multisite campus trials of individual campus- and community-based projects that have been evaluated favorably.

"It is not realistic to expect that colleges can eradicate alcohol problems among students, given the complexity of the issues and the role of alcohol in the broader social culture. But we can work to prevent alcohol-induced behavior that violates our sense of peace and security and that makes us passive contributors to the degradation of student lives."

Edward A. Malloy, President
University of Notre Dame

(3) Disseminating Research-Based Information and Promoting Its Application on Campus

Outreach efforts are essential to disseminate information about existing research-based initiatives to stakeholders and persuade colleges and universities to rely on research-based strategies in developing campus policies and programs.

The Task Force recommends that NIAAA:

  • Share the results of the Task Force's comprehensive review of the current state-of-the-research on college drinking with a variety of audiences, including local, State, and national organizations interested in the issue, to expedite and reinforce the process of information exchange.
  • Develop a series of regional workshops across the United States to share the Task Force's recommendations with college presidents and promote campus participation in surveillance activities and research trials.
  • Expand the dialogue among college presidents and administrators, community leaders, and researchers through annual updates and other mechanisms designed to:

    • Disseminate research findings to the campus and surrounding community and promote two-way communication between campus/community leaders and researchers.
    • Support continued campus and community participation in research-based activities.
    • Alert researchers to emerging alcohol-related issues on campus and within the community.
    • Offer practical feedback to researchers on policy changes and other intervention efforts that affect college drinking.
    • Provide campuses and collaborating communities with technical assistance to help them implement effective data collection and intervention efforts.
  • Continually update informational materials based on research for key stakeholders that include brochures for college presidents, parents, high school guidance counselors, student activists, and community leaders.
  • Photo of students dancing.Assist campus planners and their counterparts in the community in incorporating research into the planning, implementation, and evaluation of campus-based and joint campus- and community-based alcohol programs and policies.
  • Foster collaborations between campus administrators and community leaders to facilitate the process of information exchange and ongoing communication.
  • Coordinate and cooperate with other Federal agencies in providing training on alcohol and drug abuse to college student health center personnel.

 

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Historical document
Last reviewed: 9/23/2005


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