Some colleges have imposed new alcohol policies. These policies create liquor bans on campuses. The policies now restrict the drinking distilled spirits (liquor).
These policies are well-intentioned. They’re an effort to reduce the harms sometimes caused by alcohol abuse.
Liquor Bans on College Campuses
Yet the policies will almost certainly be ineffective. That’s because they’re based on a myth. That myth makes a big distinction between spirits and beer and wine.
In fact, standard drinks of beer, wine and spirits all contain the same amount of pure alcohol. In each case it’s 6/10ths of an ounce.
Thus, the policies falsely distinguishes between these drinks. In doing this, they send a dangerous message. It’s that beer and wine are drinks of moderation. But spirits are drinks of abuse.
Of course, there are no drinks of either moderation or abuse. There are only behaviors of moderation or abuse. That’s why any alcohol policy should focus on behavior itself.
Possibly Counter Productive
These new alcohol policies are likely to be counter productive. Reactance theory predicts that students will drink more liquor as a result. Here’s why.
- Students have expected to be able to drink spirits.
- They believe they should be able to do so.
- They are now (in their minds) unfairly restricted and their freedom is denied.
- Therefore, they will drink more spirits in order to assert their freedom.
This theory predicts a wide variety of behaviors under such conditions. That includes drinking behaviors. And its been shown to bc correct
There’s no reason to enact policies based on a myth. And ones that might well prove to be counter productive. Yet scientific evidence supports some programs. One example is that of social norms clarification. (It’s often called social norms marketing.)
Social Norms Clarification
Research has repeatedly shown that most students misperceive the quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption on their campuses. Most students falsely believe that most other students drink much more than they really do. And most students want to “fit in.” Therefore, most students either either drink or drink more than they prefer.
Social norms clarification works by reducing misperceptions. It does this my conducting a widespread anonymous survey on a campus. It’s to find the actual quantity and frequency of drinking. It then publicizes or markets these facts. Once students realize the reality, they are empowered to reduce their drinking to the lower levels they usually prefer.
Standard drinks of spirits, beer and wine all contain the same amount of pure alcohol. Because they’re all the same to breath testers. So they should also be the same to colleges.
Bans on spirits are probably ineffective. There’s no evidence they work. Even worse, they may be counter productive.
Resources: Liquor Bans on College Campuses
- Allen, D., et al. Reactance theory and alcohol consumption laws. J Stud Alco, 55(1), 34-40.
- Bensley, L. The role of psych reactance in drinking. J Appl Soc Psych, 21(13), 1111-1124.
- Brehm, S., and Brehm, J. Psychological Reactance.
- Engs, R., and Hanson, D. Reactance theory. A test with college drinking. Psych Rep, 64(3), supp, 1083-1086.
- Gilbert, D. Psych Reactance and Alcohol Use among College Students. Diss, U Houston.
- Hawkins, J., et al. Reacting to Reactance and Rebounding ‘Boomerang Effects.’
- Ringold, D. Boomerang effects in response to public health interventions. J Consum Behav, 25(1), 27-63.