Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges

Historically, college campuses have been a place where drinking and partying is widely accepted as a rite of passage. The National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, has been studying this phenomenon and has come up with some ideas to help change that culture which encourages college drinking. 

The Task Force found that many factors interact to produce various drinking patterns. These include genetic/biologic characteristics, family and cultural backgrounds and environments, previous drinking experienced in high school, and the particular environment of the college in which they are enrolled.  

Within one college, patterns may be influenced by students’ participation in fraternities/sororities, sports teams or other social groups. The social context in which drinking takes place (on- or off-campus parties, on- or off-campus bars); the economic availability of alcohol (including reduced-price drink specials and promotional efforts); and the amount of students’ disposable income also affect drinking patterns. 

The Task Force recommends targeting three populations: (1) individuals, including at-risk or alcohol-dependent drinkers; (2) the student body as a whole; and (3) the college and surrounding community.  

At-risk students would be assessed and provided intervention services. 

The factors that encourage high-risk drinking would be addressed to the student body. These include the widespread availability of alcoholic beverages to underage and intoxicated students; the commercial and social promotion of alcohol; inconsistent publicity and enforcement of laws and campus policies; large amounts of unstructured student time; and changing the student’s perception of heavy alcohol use as the norm.

The college and surrounding community would work together to address the problem as a community – not just a college – problem. Close cooperation by campus groups and administrators, community officials, local police, retail alcohol outlets, and the court system can change the environment that encourages college drinking.

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