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

Recommendations for Colleges and Universities

"I'm in my prime drinking years, and I intend to take full advantage of it!" College student, after a few drinks at a wedding.

Excessive Drinking During College as a "Developmental Disturbance

Developmental disturbance features:

  • Time-limited deviance
  • Unpredictable in advance based on individual risk factors
  • Not predictive of future functioning (if you are lucky)

The 3-in-1 Framework

  • Individuals, Including At-Risk or Alcohol-Dependent Drinkers
  • Student Body as a Whole
  • College and the Surrounding Community

Human Ecology Approach

  • Individual embedded in social context
  • To change behavior, best bet is to intervene at both individual and context level
  • Demand and supply

Tier 2 Interventions

Evidence of Success With General Populations That Could Be Applied to College Environments.


  1. Increased enforcement of minimum drinking age laws
  2. Implementation, increased publicity, and enforcement of other laws to reduce alcohol–impaired driving Reduce Alcohol–Impaired Driving
    • Lower legal blood alcohol limits reduces alcohol–related crashes (e.g., Hingson et al., 1996, 2000)
    • Make it illegal for those under 21 to drive after any drinking
    • Administrative license revocation
  3. Restrictions on alcohol retail outlet density Local Outlet Density
    • Higher levels of drinking and “binge” drinking with higher number of alcohol outlets within one mile of campus(Chaloupka & Wechsler, 1996)
    • Even simple mapping may suggest interventions
  4. Increased price and excise taxes on alcoholic beverages Pricing
    • Many studies show association of price with consumption and harmful outcomes, especially for young heavy drinkers (Toomey & Wagenaar, 2002)
    • For example:
      • Restrictions on happy hours or price promotions
      • Excise taxes on alcohol
  5. Responsible beverage service policies in social and commercial settings Server Training and Responsible Policies (Saltz, Holder, et al.)
    • Limiting sales of pitches
    • Alcohol-free drinks and food
    • No more last call
    • ID Checks
  6. The formation of a campus and community coalition may be critical to implement these strategies effectively Community Interventions
    • PRC Community Trials Project (Holder, Saltz et al.)
    • Communities Mobilizing for Change (Wagenaar et al)
    • Massachusetts Saving Lives Program (Hingson et al.)


Northwest Region

  • Willamette University
    • Community Task Force
    • Greater Enforcement – Underage
    • Training in Controlled Dispersal
  • University of Portland
    • Community Substance Abuse Prevention Team
    • End of Finals Night
    • Business Training in Marketing & Pricing
    • Integrated Evaluation Data
  • Washington State University
    • Comprehensive Community Program
    • Greater Enforcement – Proactive
    • Coupled with extensive Normative Education

Concluding Thoughts

  • Try to keep major players moving in the same direction
  • Keep trying (even when you succeed)
  • Involve local researchers for design and evaluation

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