“A Matter of Degree” Program to Prevent Alcohol Abuse is Ineffective

The very expensive “A Matter of Degree” (AMOD) program designed to reduce drinking and alcohol-related problems on college campuses has proven to be ineffective.

Ten universities across the U.S. received almost nine million dollars to reduce the presence of alcohol in their campus environments. A careful five-year evaluation of the program was conducted by one of its most enthusiastic supporters, Henry Wechsler, and his colleagues. They studied seven measures of alcohol consumption, 13 measures of alcohol-related problems or harms, and eight measures of secondhand effects of alcohol use on others.

The result? “No change” was found in any of the 28 measures of alcohol use or alcohol-related negative consequences. In short, the widely publicized “A Matter of Degree” program is a disappointing and costly flop. 1

Over the past few years glowing news reports on the program have repeatedly promised success, which has never materialized. But the “A Matter of Degree” program was doomed to fail from the start. That’s because the program is based on faulty assumptions about the causes and cures of alcohol abuse.

“A Matter of Degree” is built on the belief that alcoholic beverage advertisers, alcohol retailers, college administrators, even college communities are responsible for alcohol abuse by college students, rather than the alcohol abusers themselves.

Creating a dry environment didn’t work on college campuses during National Prohibition, and creating a dry or even “moist” environment won’t suddenly and miraculously work today. 2

But the temperance-oriented Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the program, continues to promote the ineffective program and others based on the same false assumptions. The Foundation not only ignores the demonstrated failure of its program but also actually implies that it has been a success!3

However, there is good news. The social norms technique has repeatedly proven effective in reducing the use and abuse of alcohol among 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 on a campus, and the results are widely publicized or “marketed” to students, the imagined social pressure drops and so does youthful drinking. Study after study demonstrates that the technique. What’s more, social norms programs cost very little to implement.


  • 1. Weitzman, E.R., Nelson, T.H., Lee, H., and Wechsler, Henry. Reducing drinking and related harms in college: Evaluation of the “A Matter of Degree” program. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2004, 27(3), 187-196.
  • 2. Prohibition of Alcohol in the United States (https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/Controversies/1091124904.html)
  • 3. Proctor, Dwayne. The Time to Purge Binge Drinking is Now. JoinTogether Online, December 9, 2004. [Proctor is Senior Communications Officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation]


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