Factors Affecting Student Drinking (page 4)
"Decisions about alcohol consumption are not just individual, they can affect the common life of the university."
Edward A. Malloy, President
University of Notre Dame
The proportion of college students who drink varies depending on where they live. Drinking rates are highest in fraternities and sororities followed by on-campus housing (e.g., dormitories, residence halls) (Presley et al., 1996a, 1996b; Wechsler et al., 1998, 2000b). Students who live independently off-site (e.g., in apartments) drink less, while commuting students who live with their families drink the least (O'Hare, 1990; Wechsler et al., 2002).
Although the existing literature on the influence of collegiate environmental factors on student drinking is limited, a number of environmental influences working in concert with other factors may affect students' alcohol consumption (Presley et al., 2002). Colleges and universities where excessive alcohol use is more likely to occur include schools where Greek systems dominate (i.e., fraternities, sororities), schools where athletic teams are prominent, and schools located in the Northeast (Presley et al., 1996a, 1996b; Wechsler et al., 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000b; Werner and Greene, 1992).
Some first-year students who live on campus may be at particular risk for alcohol misuse. During their high school years, those who go on to college tend to drink less than their noncollege-bound peers. But during the first few years following high school, the heavy drinking rates of college students surpass those of their noncollege peers, and this rapid increase in heavy drinking over a relatively short period of time can contribute to difficulties with alcohol and with the college transition in general (Schulenberg et al., 2001). Anecdotal evidence suggests that the first 6 weeks of enrollment are critical to first-year student success. Because many students initiate heavy drinking during these early days of college, the potential exists for excessive alcohol consumption to interfere with successful adaptation to campus life. The transition to college is often so difficult to negotiate that about one-third of first-year students fail to enroll for their second year (Upcraft, 2000).
A Rite of Passage for All, or a Habit for Some That Impacts All?
Although the consequences of campus drinking are a major problem, contrary to popular misconceptions, the majority of college students drink moderately or abstain (Wechsler et al., 2000b). For many students, alcohol use is not a tradition. Students who drink the least attend:
- 2-year institutions;
- Religious schools;
- Commuter schools;
- Historically Black colleges and universities.
(Meilman et al., 1995; Presley et al., 1996a, 1996b; Wechsler et al., 2000b).
Students who drink the most include:
- Members of fraternities and sororities,
- Athletes, and
- Some first-year students.
(Johnston et al., 2001b; Meilman et al., 1994, 1999; Presley et al., 1996a, 1996b; Wechsler et al., 1996, 1997a, 1998, 2000b).
Other Factors Affecting Drinking
Numerous other factors affect drinking behavior among college students. These include biological and genetic predisposition to use, belief system and personality, and expectations about the effects of alcohol (Sher et al., 1999; Zucker et al., 1995). In addition to individual student characteristics, the size of a student body, geographical location, and importance of athletics on campus are also associated with consumption patterns as are external environmental variables including the pricing and availability of alcohol in the area surrounding a campus (Chaloupka and Wechsler, 1996; Chaloupka et al., 1998; Leichliter et al., 1998; Nelson and Wechsler, 2001; Presley et al., 1996a, 1996b; Wechsler et al., 1994, 1997, 1998, 2000a, 2000b).
Although some drinking problems begin during the college years, many students entering college bring established drinking practices with them. Thirty percent of 12th-graders, for example, report binge drinking in high school, slightly more report having "been drunk,"and almost three-quarters report drinking in the past year (Johnston et al., 2001a). Colleges and universities "inherit"a substantial number of drinking problems that developed earlier in adolescence.
Comparison with Noncollege Peers
College drinking occurs at a stage in life when drinking levels are generally elevated. Compared to all other age groups, the prevalence of periodic heavy or high-risk drinking is greatest among young adults aged 19 to 24; and among young adults, college students have the highest prevalence of high-risk drinking (Johnston et al., 2001b; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2001). Although their noncollegiate peers drink more often, college students tend to drink more heavily when they do drink (O'Malley and Johnston, 2002).
Secondhand Consequences of Drinking
Students who do not drink or do not abuse alcohol experience secondhand consequences from others' excessive use. In addition to physical and sexual assault and damaged property, these consequences include unwanted sexual advances and disrupted sleep and study (Hingson et al., 2002; Wechsler et al., 1995, 2000b). The problems produced by high-risk drinking are neither victimless nor cost-free. All students—whether they misuse alcohol or not—and their parents, faculty, and members of the surrounding community experience the negative consequences wrought by the culture of drinking on U.S. campuses.
The consequences of alcohol abuse during the college years do not end with graduation. Frequent, excessive drinking during college increases the prospects for continuing problems with alcohol and participation in other "health-compromising or illegal behaviors"(Schulenberg et al., 1996). On the other hand, in a prospective study of college students, researchers found that although fraternity/sorority membership is associated with high levels of alcohol consumption in college, Greek status did not predict post-college heavy drinking levels (Sher et al., 2001).
Overall, these data indicate that high-risk drinking exposes students, either directly or indirectly, to unacceptable risks.
"I’ve lived in college dormitories for much of my adult life, so I know firsthand the impact irresponsible drinking has on the quality of residential life…reducing alcohol-related harm is clearly central to our mission."
Edward A. Malloy, President
University of Notre Dame
Reprinted with the permission of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
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