Schizophrenic Campuses

Colleges and universities across the US are using two popular but very different approaches in efforts to reduce the extent of alcohol abuse.

  1. 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)
  2. 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 on Campus)

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.

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.
  • 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, 1987.
  • DeAngelis, T. Perceptions influence student drinking. Monitor (American Psychological Association), 35.
  • 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, 134-140.
  • Hansen, William B., an 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.
  • Orcutt, James . The Social Integration of Beers and Peers: Situational Contingencies in Drinking and Intoxication. In: Pittman, David J, and White, Helene R. (Eds.) Society, Culture, and Drinking Patterns Reexamined. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1991. Pp. 198- 215.
  • 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. Pp. 177-206.
  • 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. Viewing the glass more empty than full. Catalyst, 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., and Moberg, D. (Eds.) Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 6 , JAI Press, 1994. Pp. 187-208.
  • 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 he Addictions, 1986, 21,961-976.
  • 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.
  • Presley, C. A., Meilman, P. W., and Lyerla, R. Alcohol and Drugs on American College Campuses: Use, Consequences, and Perceptions of the Campus Environment. Carbondale, IL: CORE Institute, 1993.
  • Perkins, H. Wesley. Religious traditions, parents, and peers as determinants of alcohol and drug use among college students. Review of Religious Research, 1985, 27, 15-31.
  • Wechsler, Henry, Davenport, A, Datal, G., Mloeyken, B., and Castillo, S. Health and behavioral consequences of binge drinking in college: A national survey of studens a 140 campuses. Journal of the American Medical Associaion, 1994, 272, 1672-1677.
  • 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.