“A Matter of Degree” Program to Prevent Alcohol Abuse
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,
- 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]
- Baer, J. S., and Carney, M. M. Biases in the perceptions of the
consequences of alcohol use among college students. Journal
of Studies on Alcohol, 1993, 54, 54-60.
- Baer, J. S., Stacy, A., and Lattimer, M. Biases in the perception
of drinking norms among college students. Journal of Studies
on Alcohol, 1991, 52, 580-586.
- Berkowitz, Alan D. The Social Norms Approach: Theory, Research
and Annotated Bibliography. Trumansburg, NY, 2003.
- Berkowitz, Alan D., and Perkins, H. Wesley. Current Issues in Effective
Alcohol Education Programming. In: Sherwood, J. S. (Ed.) Alcohol
Policies and Practices on College and University Campuses.
Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators,
- DeJong, W. Reflections on social norms marketing. Catalyst,
2001, 6(3), 8 & 11.
- DeJong, W., and Linkenbach, J. Telling it like it is: Using social
norms marketing campaigns to reduce student drinking. American
Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 1999, 52(4),
- Haines, Michael P. A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge
Drinking at Colleges and Universities. Newton, Massachusetts:
Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1996.
[Copies available at no cost from the Higher Education Center
for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention]
- Haines, Michael P. Using media to change student norms and prevent
alcohol abuse: A tested model. Oregon Higher Education Alcohol
and Drug Newsletter, 1993, 1(2), 1-3.
- Haines, Michael P., and Spear, A. F. Changing the perceptions of
the norm: A strategy to decrease binge drinking among college students.
Journal of American College Health, 1996, 45,
- Hansen, William B., and Graham, J. W. Preventing alcohol, marijuana
and cigarette use among adolescents: Peer pressure resistance training
versus establishing conservative norms. Preventive Medicine,
1991, 20, 414-430.
- Johannessen, K., et al. A Practical Guide to Alcohol Abuse
Prevention: A Campus Case Study in Implementing Social Norms and
Environmental Management Approaches. Tucson, AZ: Campus Health Service,
The University of Arizona, 1986. [A detailed examination of
the first four years of the University of Arizona's social norm
campaign, which achieved a 29% reduction in heavy drinking.]
- Linkenbach, J.W. Application of social norms marketing to a variety
of health issues. Wellness Management, 1999, 15(3).
- Linkenbach, J. W. Building a Bridge: Applying the Social Norms
Model to Sexual Health. The BACCHUS & GAMMA Sexual Responsibility
Manual, 1999. [Available from the Bacchus & Gamma Peer Education
- Linkenbach, J.W. Imaginary Peers and the Reign of Error: Binge
Drinking Prevention Through Social Norms. The Prevention Connection:
A Publication of the Montana Prevention Resource Center and the
Addictive and Mental Disorders Division of the Montana Department
of Public Health and Human Services, 1999, (3), 1-5.
- Linkenbach, J.W. Social Norms Marketing Highlight: Drinking And
Driving. In P. Kotler, N. Roberto, & N. Lee (Eds.), Social
Marketing: Improving the Quality of Life. Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage (2nd Edition, 2002, pp. 162-166).
Linkenbach, J.W. (2002). Social Norms. In P. Kotler, N. Roberto,
& N. Lee (Eds.), Social Marketing: Improving the Quality
of Life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage (2nd edition, 2002)
- Linkenbach, J. W. and H. W. Perkins, "Misperceptions of Peer
Alcohol Norms in a Statewide Survey of Young Adults," (2003).
In: Perkins, H. Wesley (Ed) The Social Norms Approach To Preventing
School And College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook for Educators,
Counselors, and Clinicians. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.
[ This book chapter reports the results of a state-wide survey
of 18 to 24 year old residents in Montana that examines actual and
perceived norms for frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption
and prevalence of drinking and driving. Results again reveal dramatic
discrepancies between actual and perceived norms for both men and
- Manoff, R.K Social Marketing: New Imperative for Public Health.
Praeger Publishers, 1985.
- Perkins, H. Wesley (Ed.) The Social Norms Approach to Preventing
School and College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook for Educators,
Counselors, and Clinicians. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.
- Perkins, H. Wesley. College Student Misperceptions of Alcohol and
Other Drug Norms among Peers: Exploring Causes, Consequences, and
Implications for Prevention Programs. In: The Higher Education Center
for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. Newton, MA: The Higher
Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1997.
- Perkins, H. Wesley. Scope of the problem: Misperceptions of alcohol
and drugs. Prevention through correcting Misperceptions of alcohol
and other drug norms: Notes on the state of the field. Catalyst,
1995, 1(3), 1-2.
- Perkins, H. Wesley. Social norms and the prevention of alcohol
misuse in college contexts. Journal of Studies on Alcohol/Supplement
No. 14, 2002.
[A review of conceptual and empirical studies on the role of
social norms in college student alcohol use and in prevention strategies
to counter misuse. The normative influences of various constituencies
serving as reference groups for students are examined as possible
factors influencing students' drinking behavior.]
- Perkins, H. Wesley, and Berkowiz, Alan D. Perceiving the community
norms of alcohol use among students: Some research implications
for campus alcohol education programming. International Journal
of Addictions, 1986, 21, 961-976.
- Perkins, H. Wesley and Craig, David. A Multifaceted Social Norms
Approach to Reduce High-Risk Drinking. Newton, MA: The Higher Education
Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, Education Development
Center, Inc., 2002. [ Describes the Hobart and William Smith
Colleges' Social Norms Project, which achieved a 30% reduction in
high-risk drinking over 5 years. Contents include a complete description
of program components, including data collection, print media campaigns,
electronic media campaigns, curriculum development, and campus presentations.]
Perkins, H. Wesley, and Wechsler, Henry. Variations in perceived
college drinking norms and its impact on alcohol abuse: A nationwide
study. Journal of Drug Issues, 1996, 26, 961-974.
- Wood, M. D., Nnagoshi, C. T., and Dennis, D. A. Alcohol norms and
expectations as predictors of alcohol use and problems in a college
student sample. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse,
1992, 18, 461-476.