Reducing Student Alcohol Abuse (What Works and What Doesn’t)

Alcohol abuse among students in high school and college continues to drop to new lows. However, any abuse is too much. So it still remains a serious problem that requires action. Specifically, what works in further reducing student alcohol abuse?

What Works…

Social Norms Marketing
The social norms marketing approach is highly effective in reducing alcohol abuse. It’s 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’s effective is Brief Intervention. Brief Intervention is also very effective in reducing student alcohol abuse. It 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. 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/or Brief Intervention. To learn more, visit Harm Reduction Works.

What Probably Works…

Modifying Class Schedules
Most colleges no longer schedule classes on Saturdays. Also, Friday classes have almost disappeared. Similarly, very few classes are now scheduled at 8:00 in the morning. In fact, students often 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.
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. That’s because it has generally become so easy to receive good grades with a minimum of time and effort.

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

What Doesn’t Work…

reducing student alcohol abuseUnfortunately, many of the popular responses to alcohol abuse are both ineffective and expensive. They include futile efforts to stamp out drinking by adults under the age of 21. Popular is a policy of “zero tolerance.” (See Zero Tolerance.). It usually has many, often severe, measures.

Similarly, there are many efforts to reduce alcohol advertising. These are well-meaning but naïve. They ignore extensive world-wide research showing that alcohol advertising doesn’t increase alcohol abuse. It doesn’t cause people to begin drinking. Nor to drink more. It can only increase market share. And if successful, it is at the expense of other brands. They, in turn lose market share. (Learn more at Alcohol Advertising.)

Scare tactics exaggerate the dangers of alcohol. They continue to be popular in spite of the fact that they are ineffective and often counter productive. And they can much do more harm than good. They’re also inconsistent with the use of social norms marketing, which is based on reducing misperceptions. (See more at Schizophrenic Campuses.)


High schools and colleges should use techniques that have proven effective. They should also experiment with those that show promise in reducing alcohol problems. On the other hand, they should abandon ineffective and counter-productive techniques, regardless of their popularity. To do otherwise is irresponsible and indefensible.

Resources: Reducing Student Alcohol Abuse

Web Pages

Reduce Underage Alcohol Abuse In Creative Ways: Here are Seven.

Underage Drinking Problems and Solutions: What Works.

Effects of Alcohol Ads.


Kilmer, J., & Logan, D. Applying Harm Reduction on College Campuses. In Correia, C. et al.,  (Eds.) College Student Alcohol Abuse. Hoboken: Wiley, 2012. Pp. 146-165.

Monti, P. et al. Brief Interventions for Adolescent Alcohol and Substance Abuse. NY: Guilford, 2018.       

Perkins, H. and Perkins, J. Using the Social Norms Approach. In Cimini, M. and Rivero, E. (Eds.), Promoting Behavioral Health and Reducing Risk among College Students. NY: Routledge, 2018. Pp. 127-144