ERIC Identifier: ED436110
Publication Date: 1999-00-00
Author: Kellogg, Karen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Higher Education Washington DC.| BBB32577 _ George Washington Univ. Washington
DC. Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
Binge Drinking on College Campuses. ERIC Digest.
The nation, and especially college campuses, was shaken by the death of
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student Scott Krueger in 1997.
Freshman Scott Krueger died of alcohol poisoning with his blood-alcohol level at
five times the drunken driving standard in Massachusetts. Reports from his
fraternity brothers indicated that he had multiple drinks in a short period of
time-- he was binge drinking. The Krueger incident, along with incidents at LSU
and other universities on the East coast, spurred national discussion about
college alcohol abuse and more specifically, binge drinking (McCormick and Kalb,
1998). Alcohol abuse has long been a problem on college campuses. Currently,
approximately 85% of college students drink alcohol (Philpot, 1997). Countless
surveys have been conducted and articles written about the effects of alcohol on
college students. Other projects have been completed on alcohol education and
programming efforts. Many scholars and practitioners have spent their careers
looking at the physical, emotional and academic effects of alcohol abuse. In the
last few years a specific type of alcohol abuse has come to the forefront--binge
drinking. "The collegiate culture of drinking seems to be moving from keg
parties to industrial-strength guzzling" (McCormick & Kalb, 1998). However,
not until recently has there been a study conducted on binge drinking that
illuminates its characteristics and the dangers it has on individual students
and the campus community.
Binge drinking is defined as drinking "five
or more drinks in a row one or more times during a two-week period for men, and
four or more drinks in a row one or more times during a two-week period for
women . . . and a drink is defined as a 12-ounce can or bottle of beer, a four
ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce bottle or can of wine cooler, or a shot of
liquor taken straight or in a mixed drink" (Wechsler, 1996). In 1993, Henry
Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health, conducted a nationwide study of
almost 18,000 college students and their alcohol use, behaviors and opinions.
This study provided the first comprehensive view of the widespread abuse of
binge drinking by college students (Wechsler, 1996). There are several key
findings about binge drinking from the study:
*Eighty-four percent (84%) of students surveyed drank alcohol during the
school year with almost half, 44% categorized as binge drinkers and 19% as
frequent binge drinkers.
*Thirty-three percent (33%) of schools surveyed qualified as high-binge
drinking campuses. To be qualified for a high-binge drinking campus, more than
half of the students responding to the survey had to indicate that they were
*The strongest predictor for binge drinking was living in a sorority or
fraternity house. Eighty percent (80%) of sorority women and 86% of fraternity
men living in Greek housing qualified as binge drinkers.
CHARACTERISTICS OF BINGE DRINKERS
According to Wechsler
(1996), typical characteristics of binge drinkers include: male, fraternity and
sorority members, white, under 24 years of age, involved in athletics, and
students who socialize a great deal. White males were found to be the most
likely group to binge drink and African-American females were the least likely
to binge drink (Wechsler, 1996). Historically black colleges, women's colleges,
commuter schools and schools in the western United States have less binge
drinking (Philpot, 1997). Also, students involved in community service, the arts
or studying a great deal were less likely to binge drink. Finally, less than
half of binge drinkers considered religion an important part of their lives
GREEK MEMBERSHIP AND BINGE DRINKING
Although contrary to
the ideals and foundations of Greek membership, Wechsler (1996) found that Greek
membership and living in Greek housing is the strongest single predictor of
binge drinking. Rarely do fraternity and sorority members have a social activity
when alcohol is not present. Alcohol plays a large part of the Greek
socialization process. Greek members also believe that alcohol facilitates the
brotherhood/sisterhood bonding process and enhances social activities. The
social norms of Greek membership appear to greatly influence the attitudes and
expectations of Greek members regarding alcohol use (Alva, 1998).
Students living in Greek residences were more likely than non-Greek students
to indicate that partying and drinking are important collegiate activities. For
many Greek students, binge drinking began in high school and continued
throughout college. Of Greek men who lived in fraternity housing, 60% considered
themselves binge drinkers in high school while only 38% of sorority women living
in sorority houses participated in binge drinking in high school. Seventy-eight
percent of resident fraternity members and 76% of resident sorority members who
were not binge drinkers became binge drinkers in college, as compared to 32% of
non-fraternity men and 25% of non-sorority women who did not binge drink in high
school (Wechsler, Kuh & Davenport, 1996).
Of Greek women who lived in sorority houses, 80% were binge drinkers and of
Greek men who lived in fraternity houses, 86% were binge drinkers. Both genders
in Greek societies out-drank their non-Greek counterparts. Only 35% of non-Greek
women participated in binge drinking and 45% of non-Greek men participated in
binge drinking (Wechsler, 1996). Because of the alcohol abuse, residents of
Greek housing reported many more drinking-related problems than non-Greek
students. Drinking related problems included: hangovers, missing class,
forgetting what they did the night before, sexual assault and unplanned sexual
activity, damaging property, drunk driving, and doing something that they
regretted (Wechsler, Kuh & Davenport, 1996).
Institutions should begin to examine the accountability, or lack thereof,
that fraternities and sororities have to their members. Greek residents are more
likely to tolerate drinking which is contrary to their founding principles.
College administrators should hold Greeks and the national Greek organizations
responsible for their actions. The strong culture of Greek organizations is a
powerful force for its members. Administrators can implement several types of
restrictions and guidelines to assist Greek members in transforming their
culture. Some of these guidelines might include: deferring new member rushing
until the sophomore year, increasing education efforts, implementing stronger
alcohol policies and following through with appropriate sanctions when the
alcohol policy is violated (Wechsler, Kuh & Davenport, 1996).
SECONDHAND EFFECTS OF BINGE DRINKING
drinkers are not the only students who are affected by their behavior. Non-binge
drinking students are being dramatically affected by their binge drinking
friends and roommates. According to Wechsler (1996), on campuses where more than
half of the students participate in binge drinking, 87% of students that live on
campus have experienced some secondhand effects of binge drinking. This is also
true, but at a lesser extent, at schools where less than one-third of students
participate in binge drinking. Some of the most common secondhand effects of
binge drinking include: being insulted or humiliated, experiencing unwanted
sexual advances, having interrupted sleep and babysitting friends or roommates.
It is clear that the secondhand effects of binge drinking are widespread and
impact the majority of college students (Wechsler, 1996).
THE TWELVE-STEP PROGRAM FOR INSTITUTIONS
has created a twelve-step program for institutions to address the alcohol
problem on their campuses. Simply stated, the twelve-steps include:
Assess the ways in which alcohol is affecting your college.
Admit that your college has an alcohol problem.
A systematic effort begins with the president.
Plan for a long-term effort.
Involve everyone in the solution.
Involve the local community in your efforts.
Establish the rights of non-binging students.
Target disruptive behavior for disciplinary action.
Address problem drinking at fraternities and sororities.
Provide a full-time education for a full-time tuition.
Encourage problem drinkers to seek help or treatment.
Freshman orientation should start long before students arrive on campus.
This program is not only designed for administrators, but for the entire
campus community. The twelve-step program will not cure binge drinking and
alcohol abuse overnight, but it is a place to start.
A SOCIAL INFLUENCE APPROACH TO PREVENTION
For years, campus
administrators have tried to change student alcohol behavior by providing
information and educating students about the consequences of alcohol abuse.
Campuses have tried flashy advertising campaigns and gimmicks to get students to
reduce the amount of alcohol they drink. Despite the best efforts of campus
educators, students are not listening and the alcohol abuse continues to be a
rite of passage for many students.
The latest in a long line of alcohol prevention programs targets the root of
the problem perceptions students have about drinking and other drinkers. The
Social Influence Approach describes an effort to change the common beliefs
students have about alcohol, binge drinking and their peers. In 1998, Northern
Illinois University (NIU) received funding to expand its alcohol abuse
prevention efforts and to reduce binge drinking by implementing a social
influence campaign. After an initial study of binge drinking at NIU, results
indicated that 43% of its students participated in binge drinking. One of the
most consistent results from the study, and also mimicked by nationwide studies,
is that regardless of the drinker, students thought that other students on
campus drank more than they did. At NIU, where the actual binge drinking rate
was 43%, students indicated that their perception was that 69% of students
participated in binge drinking. If students believe that "everyone else is binge
drinking" than the binge drinking rates are likely to rise because of the
influence that "everyone else is drinking." Whether it is accurate or not, the
perceptions of drinking norms have a strong influence on current and future
drinking behaviors and they eventually become self-fulfilling prophecies
Overcoming these social norms to binge drinking is a daunting task. If the
social perceptions of binge drinking were to change, the actual binge drinking
rate may drop. NIU used this premise in designing its social influence campaign.
For several weeks, an advertisement was printed in the student newspaper saying,
"Most NIU students (55%) drink five or fewer drinks when they party." This
message was reinforced through classroom speakers, posters and students called
the Money Brothers. The Money Brothers were hired to approach groups of students
in cafeterias and ask, "Who knows how many drinks most NIU students drink when
they party?" The student who was the first to give the correct answer is given
one dollar and the other students were given flyers with the message printed on
them. The Money Brothers approached 100 students during the year. Also, student
workers randomly visited residence hall rooms and when they found a room with
the campaign poster up, they gave the student $5, with $200 awarded during the
entire year (Haines, 1996).
The impact of the social influence campaign at NIU was positive. The
perception of binge drinking on campus dropped 18% and there was a 16% reduction
in actual binge drinking on campus. NIUs Social Influence Campaign used social
marketing to change perceptions about campus drinking with messages that
illuminate positive and moderate drinking norms (Haines, 1996). Perhaps social
influence campaigns on other campuses could have positive results and decrease
the binge drinking rate nationwide.
Alva, S. A. (1998). Self-reported alcohol use of
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Haines, M. (1996). A social norms approach to preventing binge drinking at
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McCormick, J., & Kalb, C. (1998). Dying for a drink. Newsweek, June 15.
Philpot, J. (1997). Facing up to our campus drinking problem. About Campus,
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Wechsler, H., Kuh, G., & Davenport, A. (1996). Fraternities, sororities
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