It is common for students to bring risky drinking habits with them to college and to have expectations that excessive alcohol use is widespread and accepted on campus. Keep in mind that in most cases, the college environment produces a significant increase in alcohol consumption whatever the students’ previous drinking history. The question is whether the school facilitates those tendencies or moderates them.
Be proactive in addressing freshman alcohol use before and soon after they arrive on campus. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the first 6 weeks of enrollment are critical to first-year student success. If students initiate or increase alcohol use during this phase, they may adapt less successfully to campus life.
During the summer prior to matriculation, you might offer a parent-based intervention (see IND-13), which helps facilitate conversations between parents and students about alcohol use and have been shown to reduce drinking during freshmen year (Ichiyama et al., 2009; Turrisi et al., 2001). Online pre-matriculation programs that include personalized feedback also have proven effective over the short term.
Once students are on campus, assess the extent of the problem. If your campus is not assessing the drinking habits of incoming students, set up a system to do so (see the FAQ on monitoring campus alcohol problems). If your campus is assessing incoming freshmen, develop rapid ways to process data, identify students at risk for alcohol-related problems, and tailor prevention strategies accordingly.
Early in the fall semester, plan to distribute campus alcohol policies with information about services for students who are struggling with alcohol use, including specific resources for those who identify as being in recovery.
See also the FAQ on specific subgroups for a list of individual-level interventions shown effective with freshmen. Keep in mind, however, that the campus environment has a powerful influence on students’ drinking behavior, and that environmental-level strategies have proven effectiveness in reducing the availability and appeal of alcohol for all students.
Ichiyama MA, Fairlie AM, Wood MD, Turrisi R, Francis DP, Ray AE, et al. A randomized trial of a parent-based intervention on drinking behavior among incoming college freshmen. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs Supplement, Jul(16):67–76, 2009.
Turrisi R, Jaccard J, Taki R, Dunnam H, & Grimes J. Examination of the short-term efficacy of a parent intervention to reduce college student drinking tendencies. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 15(4):366–72, 2001.