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College Drinking Prevention - Changing the Culture

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What Colleges Need to Know Now: An Update on College Drinking Research

A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges

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Task Force Co-Chairs

The Task Force on College Drinking, a group of distinguished educators, alcohol researchers, and students, met for 3 years to respond to the persistent and pervasive problem of excessive drinking by students on U.S. college campuses. The Task Force was established by the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Although NIAAA has maintained a modest portfolio of grants on college drinking for many years, the Task Force represents an effort to address the issue in the most coordinated and comprehensive way possible.

The goals of the Task Force are threefold:

  1. Provide research-based information about the nature and extent of dangerous drinking to high school and college administrators, students, parents, community leaders, policymakers, researchers, and members of the retail beverage industry;

  3. Offer recommendations to college and university presidents on the potential effectiveness of current strategies to reverse the culture of drinking on campus; and

  5. Offer recommendations to the research community, including NIAAA, for future research on preventing hazardous college student drinking.

To this end, the Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of research on drinking by college students and on strategies to prevent it. We established two panels that addressed: (1) the contexts in which college drinking occurs and its consequences, and (2) prevention and treatment. In addition to extensive deliberations, the panels commissioned 24 original scientific papers intended to synthesize what we know and identify research gaps. Most of these papers have been published in a special supplement to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol. The extent of drinking consequences among college students is described in a paper by Ralph Hingson et al., published in the March issue of the Journal. (Please visit our Web site: for additional information.)

During the course of our deliberations, it became clear that three primary constituencies must be addressed to change the culture of drinking on campus: (1) individuals, including at-risk or alcohol-dependent drinkers, (2) the student population as a whole, and (3) the college and its surrounding community. To be effective, prevention programs must target all three. The Task Force devised a simple, but comprehensive, 3-in-1 Framework to help colleges and universities with this process.

Another theme that emerged repeatedly in our work was the need for schools to base their alcohol policies and prevention programs on scientific evidence. In selecting the prevention strategies that appear in this report, we considered feasibility, theoretical rationale, and outcomes in noncollege settings as well as demonstrated effectiveness on college campuses. However, we also found that a number of potentially effective strategies have little evidence to support them because they have not been thoroughly evaluated. This raises a key point. Additional research is needed to determine the value of these promising strategies. We strongly encourage colleges and universities to collaborate with researchers in testing their value on campus.

Because the results of the Task Force's work are important to a broad audience, we have summarized our information and recommendations in a variety of formats. In addition to this report, our products include:

  • An alcohol prevention program handbook—Reducing Alcohol Problems on Campus: A Guide to Planning and Evaluation;

  • Brochures for college and university presidents, student peer educators, and parents (future brochures include community leaders, high school guidance counselors, and students);

  • The final reports of the Task Force’s two panels—High-Risk Drinking in College: What We Know and What We Need to Learn and How to Reduce High-Risk College Drinking: Use Proven Strategies, Fill Research Gaps—that describe each panel’s findings in detail; and

  • The scientific papers commissioned by the panels to supplement the current research literature. (Please see the Resources section of this report for information on ordering or downloading these products.)

The consequences of drinking on campus are too damaging to ignore. Although research alone is insufficient to reverse the problem, it will point the way to solutions. We are simultaneously confronted with statistics that show college drinking worsening and other data that suggest the reverse. This underscores the conundrum that college drinking-related problems are persistent but may change in nature and intensity over time. As a result, this report should not be considered the final solution. It is the beginning, a call to action, involving college presidents, researchers, and students. Unless we improve the collection of data and rigorously evaluate prevention programs, using the most innovative methods available, we will continue to be perplexed by these problems and unable to move ahead and make appreciable differences.

We urge college and university presidents to apply the recommendations in this report. Moreover, we challenge society to no longer ignore the consequences of drinking on our Nation's campuses. Parents, prevention organizations, the alcohol beverage and hospitality industries, and the Federal government must together apply all necessary financial and intellectual resources to address this pervasive and persistent problem.

Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C.
Task Force Co-Chair
University of Notre Dame

Mark Goldman, Ph.D.
Task Force Co-Chair
Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology
University of South Florida

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Historical document
Last reviewed: 9/23/2005

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