Colleges and universities across the US are using two popular but
very different approaches in efforts to reduce the extent of alcohol
- One is an aggressive no-use, zero tolerance policy, especially
toward the consumption or possession of alcohol by anyone under
the age of twenty-one. It stresses vigorous law enforcement followed
by strong penalties and commonly attempts to "scare 'em straight"
by emphasizing, if not exaggerating, the extent of the problem
and its severity. (see Zero Tolerance)
- The other is the social norms approach. It recognizes the reality
of underage drinking and attempts to reduce the harm that can
result from the misuse of alcohol. It stresses education --- the
use of facts to correct the prevalent misperception that drinking
and alcohol abuse are more common that they really are. This knowledge
empowers students to abstain or to consume less rather than trying
to conform to what they have falsely believed "everyone"
is doing. (see A Proven Way to Reduce
Alcohol Abuse and Best Kept Secret
The evidence clearly indicates that social norms marketing is
a very effective method to reduce alcohol abuse. Unfortunately,
it also demonstrates that zero tolerance is not only ineffective
by often counter productive. These two methods are based on diametrically
opposed assumptions and their use is inconsistent with each other.
Astonishingly, many colleges and universities are using both simultaneously.
This significantly reduces that ability of social norms marketing
to be effective. Emphasizing or exaggerating the extent of drinking
and drinking problems is clearly inconsistent with publicizing the
truth and correcting misperceptions.
Catering to pressures from different constituencies and pressure
groups may be politically wise for college administrators, but by
doing so they sacrifice the effectiveness of their programs and
fail to meet the needs of their students.
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alcohol use among college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol,
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of drinking norms among college students. Journal of Studies on
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Policies and Practices on College and University Campuses. Washington,
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DeAngelis, T. Perceptions influence student drinking. Monitor
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alcohol abuse: A tested model. Oregon Higher Education Alcohol
and Drug Newsletter, 1993, 1(2), 1-3.
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norm: A strategy to decrease binge drinking among college students.
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versus establishing conservative norms. Preventive Medicine,
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1995, (3), 2.
Perkins, H. Wesley. Alcohol and Other Drugs Education Project. http://www.hws.edu/~alcohol
Perkins, H. Wesley. The Contextual Effect of Secular Norms on Religiosity
as Moderator of Student Alcohol and other Drug Use. In: Lynn, M.,
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norms of alcohol use among students: Some research implications for
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on American College Campuses: Use, Consequences, and Perceptions of
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