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How do colleges address student drinking?

Research on alcohol abuse and how to decrease the amount of alcohol-related deaths on college campuses is published. (photo/ Northern Review)

Ongoing research continues to improve our understanding of how to address this persistent and costly problem. Successful efforts typically involve a mix of prevention, intervention and treatment strategies that target individual students, the student body as a whole and the broader college community.

Strategies Targeting Individual Students

Strategies that target individual students, including those at risk for alcohol problems, are effective, particularly alcohol screening and brief intervention programs conducted in campus health centers. These programs evaluate students’ alcohol use and provide feedback about:

» The risks of drinking
» How these risks interfere with meeting their goals
» How to monitor and reduce drinking
» How to handle high-risk situations

A focus on individual intervention and treatment is significant, as research shows that 19 percent of college students between the ages of 18 and 24 meet the criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence, but only five percent of them seek treatment assistance.

Strategies Targeting the Campus and Surrounding Community

In combination with individually oriented interventions,strategies that focus on the college environment are another key component of a comprehensive program.These prevention efforts target the entire student body as well as the broader college community and include strategies that:

» Provide alcohol education
» Limit alcohol availability and enforce underage-drinking laws
» Provide alcohol-free campus activities
» Notify parents of alcohol-related infractions
» Adjust academic schedules to include more Friday classes and reduce the number of long weekends during the semester.

Social-norms approaches, which focus on correcting student misperceptions about how much their peers drink, have been widely implemented. However, new research shows that these approaches may work best individual and online applications, in which students receive personalized feedback, but they are much less effective as part of campus-wide campaigns.

Accumulating research shows that campus–community partnerships can be effective. With the involvement of campus administrators, local law enforcement, merchants, residents and local leaders, these partnerships address college drinking through the application and consistent enforcement of community policies. Effective campus–community partnership strategies can include:
» Publicizing and enforcing underage-drinking and zero tolerance laws for drivers under age 21.
» Establishing partnerships between the college and the local residential and business communities to reduce access to alcohol and to address violations.
» Increasing the price of alcohol, such as the elimination of low-cost drink specials in bars near college campuses, because research shows that when alcohol is more expensive, people drink less and have fewer alcohol-related problems.

Strong leadership from a concerned college president in combination with an involved campus community and a comprehensive program of evidence-based strategies can help address harmful student drinking.

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