“A Matter of Degree” Program to Prevent Alcohol Abuse is Ineffective

The “A Matter of Degree” program to prevent alcohol abuse is ineffective. It was to reduce drinking and alcohol-related problems on college campuses.

The Program

a matter of degree
Henry Wechsler

Ten universities across the U.S. received almost nine million dollars to reduce the presence of alcohol in their campus environments. One of the strongest supporters of the program, Henry Wechsler, and colleagues evaluated it for five years.. They studied seven measures of alcohol consumption. They studied 13 measures of alcohol-related problems or harms. And they studied 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 negative consequences. In short, the widely publicized “A Matter of Degree” program is a costly flop.1

Glowing news reports on the program repeatedly promised success. Unfortunately, it 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” (AMOD) is built on a false belief. It’s that alcohol ads, alcohol retailers, college administrators, even college communities are responsible for alcohol abuse. On the other hand, college students aren’t responsible for their own actions. Instead, they’re helpless victims.

Creating a dry environment didn’t work on college campuses during National Prohibition. Similarly, creating dry or even “moist” environments won’t suddenly work today.2

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The temperance-oriented Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the program. It continued to promote the ineffective program and others based on the same false assumptions. The Foundation not only ignores the clear failure of its program but also actually implies that it has been a success!3

However, there is good news. The social norms technique is 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. They do so in an effort to “fit in.”

Credible surveys show the actual, much lower drinking rates on a campus. When the results are widely publicized or “marketed,” the imagined social pressure drops. And so does drinking. Study after study shows that the technique works. What’s more, social norms programs cost very little to implement. The expertise to have a program already exists on campus.

Resources: A Matter of Degree

Readings

Hastings, G. and Domegan, C. Social Marketing. NY: Routledge, 2018

Lee, N. and Kotler, P. Social Marketing: Changing Behaviors for Good. Los Angeles: Sage, 2016.

Lefebvre, R. Social Marketing. Los Angeles: Sage, 2013.

References

1. Weitzman, E., et al. (also including Wechsler) Reducing drinking and related harms in college. Evaluation of the “A Matter of Degree” program. Am J Prev Med, 2004, 27(3), 187-196.

2. Prohibition of Alcohol in the U. S.

3. Proctor, D. The Time to Purge Binge Drinking is Now. JoinTogether Online, Dec 9, 2004. [Proctor is head of PR the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation]