Best Kept Secret On Campus

by Michael P. Haines*

Unfortunately, every year, people die because of the risks they take. Each year, student deaths are reported related to various factors: rock climbing, drinking, bicycling, hunting, basketball, flying, meningitis, swimming, depression, jogging and, most commonly, driving.

This year, the media had a feeding frenzy about alcohol related deaths among students. I have been wondering why all this media attention now, when it could have been reported that:

News Flash!
College Students Use of Alcohol Hits All Time Low!

According to National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) data collected annually by the Institute for Social Research (ISR) at the University of Michigan, the "Percent of students who used alcohol in the last twelve month" is at the lowest point of any time during the seventeen years that data has been kept. Students who abstain from alcohol use (during preceeding twelve months) has more than doubled.

News Flash!
College Student "Binge" Drinking Hits Record Low!

At the very same time that media and institutional attention to collegiate "binge" drinking is at a national high, binge drinking on campus is at the lowest level since this behavior has been tracked. Both ISR data and CORE data show the same results: Students who reported drinking "five or more drinks at an occasion during the last two weeks" is at the LOWEST LEVEL since either the CORE (1989) or the ISR (1980) began recording this information.

WHY IS THIS INFORMATION UNKNOWN
TO MOST PEOPLE IN HIGHER EDUCATION?

Why has the CORE Institute, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, and the AMA not celebrated this information? As far as I am concerned, to see "binge" drinking at an all time low and alcohol abstinence at an all time high is some of the best news on the college horizon in the last twenty years. Our research suggests that spreading this information should help support and enhance protective drinking norms on campus while challenging the false norms that "Everybody's getting drunk. Nobody cares."

DOES ANYONE THINK THAT
HIDING THIS INFORMATION HELPS STUDENTS?

It is public information, and it is available at this web site.

Institute for Social Research (ISR) at the University of Michigan:
http://www.isr.umich.edu/src/mtf

 

Michael Haines is Coordinator of Health Enhancement Services at Northern Illinois University, where he has pioneered in developing effective ways to reduce alcohol abuse. His work has been cited as exemplary by the Harvard University School of Public Health and the United States Department of Education.

*Reprinted by permission of Michael Haines

References

  • 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.
  • DeAngelis, T. Perceptions influence student drinking. Monitor (American Psychological Association), 35.
  • Haines, Michael P. A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities. Newton, MA: Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1996. (Available at no cost by calling 1-800-676-1730).
  • Haines, Michael P. Using media to change student norms and prevent alcohol abuse. 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, 134-140.
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  • Perkins, H. Wesley. Confronting Misperceptions of Peer Drug Use Norms among College Students: An Alternative Approach for Alcohol and Drug Education. In: Peer Prevention Program Implementation Manual. Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian University, Higher Education Leaders/Peers Network, 1991.
  • Perkins, H. Wesley. Scope of the problem: Misperceptions of alcohol and drugs. Catalyst, 1996, 1(3).
  • Wood, M. D., Nnagoshi, C. T., and Dennis, D. A. Alcohol norms and expectations as predictors of alcohol a use and problems in a college student sample. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol, Abuse, 1992, 18, 461-476.