Counterproductive and Dangerous Alcohol Policy

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Drake University in Iowa has decided to crack down on student drinking with a zero tolerance approach. Although well intentioned, its policy will almost certainly lead to serious problems, and potentially even to needless death.

Students who require medical care because of intoxication will now be punished. That won’t stop drinking, but it will discourage students from seeking needed medical intervention and treatment.

Such policies elsewhere have discouraged students from obtaining medical care. That’s precisely why caring institutions no longer punish those who require medical care. A serious medical complication or even death seen as a result of this policy may put Drake University officials on the hot seat... the witness chair in court fighting a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

Perhaps it would be wiser for Drake to use a proven method for reducing alcohol consumption and abuse on college campuses.

The social norms marketing technique has repeatedly been found effective in reducing the use and abuse of alcohol among college students. It’s based on the fact that the vast majority of young people greatly exaggerate in their minds the quantity and frequency of drinking among their peers. Therefore, they tend to drink -- or drink more -- than they would otherwise, in an effort to “fit in.”

When credible surveys demonstrate the actual, much lower drinking rates, and the results are widely publicized or “marketed” to students, the imagined social pressure drops and so does student drinking. Study after study demonstrates that the technique works. What’s more, it costs very little to implement.

This is a good alternative to potentially dangerous zero tolerance policies and its enormous liability risk. As students might say, “it’s a no-brainer.”


References and Readings

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