Reducing Alcohol Abuse Among Students

Although alcohol abuse among college students continues to drop to new lows, any abuse is too much and it still remains a serious problem that requires action.

What Works...

Social Norms Marketing
The social norms marketing approach has consistently proven to be highly effective in reducing alcohol abuse. It is based on the fact that college students typically over-estimate the extent of alcohol abuse. When the actual incidence of use and abuse is widely and intensively reported, most students promptly modify their behavior. The technique is very inexpensive to use and the benefits occur quickly. To learn more, visit A Proven Way To Reduce Alcohol Abuse.
Brief Intervention
A second technique that has proven to be effective is known as Brief Intervention. Although less well known than social norms marketing, it is also very effective in reducing alcohol abuse on college campuses and can be used along with social norms marketing. To learn more, visit Brief Intervention Techniques.
Harm Reduction
Harm reduction is effective in reducing the misuse of alcohol as well as the harm that can result from misuse. It moves students, regardless of their degree of involvement with alcohol, toward more healthful behaviors. It can be used separately or in connection with social norms marketing and Brief Intervention. To learn more, visit Harm Reduction Works for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

What Probably Works...

Modifying Class Schedules
Most colleges no longer schedule classes on Saturdays and in recent years Friday classes have almost disappeared. Similarly, very few classes are now scheduled at 8:00 in the morning and students complain that 9:00 classes are "too early." Clearly, such scheduling enables students to party late without having to face the sobering reality of early classes or even any classes after the "party nights" of Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Requiring Attendance
In addition to reducing alcohol abuse, requiring attendance should also contribute to improved academic performance.
Reducing Grade Inflation
Grade inflation enables students to party rather than study because it has generally become so easy to receive acceptable grades with a minimum of time and effort.

Although not yet scientifically evaluated, all of these promising techniques are free of expense and they would also tend to promote improved academic performance.

What Doesn't Work...

Unfortunately, many of the popular responses to alcohol abuse are both ineffective and expensive. They include futile efforts to stamp out drinking by legal adults under the age of 21 through a policy of "zero tolerance" (see Zero Tolerance) and innumerable, sometimes draconian, measures.

Similarly, efforts to reduce or eliminate alcohol advertising, while well-meaning, are naïve and ignore extensive world-wide research demonstrating that alcohol advertising doesn't increase alcohol abuse... only influences market share. (see Alcohol Advertising)

Scare tactics that exaggerate the dangers of alcohol consumption continue to be popular in spite of the fact that they are clearly ineffective and often counter productive... ... ...they do more harm than good. They are also inconsistent with the use of social norms marketing, which is based on eliminating distorted misperceptions. (see Schizophrenic Campuses)


Colleges should utilize techniques that have proven effective in reducing alcohol misuse and the problems it can cause and should experiment with those techniques that show promise in reducing alcohol problems. They should abandon ineffective and counter-productive techniques, regardless of their popularity. To do otherwise is irresponsible and indefensible.