Way to Reduce Alcohol Abuse (It’s Proven Effective)

There’s a proven way to reduce alcohol abuse. What’s more, its results occur quickly. And also it’s inexpensive to do.

Dr. H. Wesley Perkins developed the technique. In this interview with David Hanson he explains how and why it works.

Hanson —

Dr. Perkins, your research and insights form the basis of a unique way to reduce alcohol abuse. Could you please explain your approach.

Dr. Perkins —

way to reduce alcohol abuse
H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D.

I’d be happy to. Students typically believe that their peers drink much more than they actually do. They also believe that their peers have much more permissive attitudes toward alcohol abuse than they really have.

The importance of this general misperception is that it fuels more drinking. That’s because students try to live up to a distorted image of what their peers think and do. They therefore end up engaging in more drinking that they would otherwise do.

This leads to a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. More drinking becomes increases. That’s because students drink at higher levels in order to conform to what they imagine to be the norm.

Hanson —

That makes sense. But how can we break this “viscious cycle”?

Dr. Perkins —

Basically, we need to correct misperceptions. The logic is simple. When students discover that fewer students than they think are drinking, for example, then they’re less likely to drink as much.

To do this, campus surveys discover actual levels of drinking. Then extensive and widespread publicity makes students aware of those facts. When that occurs, actual drinking drops quickly.

Hanson —

That’s impressive. Have your very positive results at Hobart and William Smith Colleges been duplicated elsewhere?

Dr. Perkins —

Yes, this approach has been used successfully at colleges all over the country. They’re large and small, urban and rural, public and private.

Hanson —

Well, so-called binge drinking is a problem on campuses. The press is full of alarming reports.

Isn’t it important to spread the word and warn students of what to expect at college. That way they can avoid abusing alcohol when they get there?

Dr. Perkins —

It’s true alcohol abuse is a very serious problem. But we need to be careful about how we present these problems. We don’t want to increase them.

Consider “binge drinking” as an example. Reports might indicate that 25% of the students on a campus are frequent “binge” drinkers. Yet simply announcing this also adds to a belief that alcohol abuse and students go hand in hand. It helps reinforce the false notion that most students view frequent intoxication as acceptable.

We could report, on the other hand, that 75% of the student body does NOT engage in frequent “binge” drinking. This reinforces the attitudes and behaviors of those who do not engage in such behavior. In essence, it helps empower them to avoid such behavior.

Emphasizing pervasive drinking problems on campus may end up being counterproductive. Thus, students’ highly excessive misperceptions of the actual behaviors and attitudes on campus become even more inflated.

An alternative is to report the same information a bit differently. Focusing on the majority behavior creates a more positive mindset about acceptable social norms.

Of course, the the actual data remain the same, whether presented negatively or positively. Concern about the abuse of alcohol must not be neglected. However, we must always carefully consider the impact of the message on those who receive it.

Hanson —

So this approach involves correcting the distorted misperceptions of students. It does so by giving the actual, positive facts about drinking among their peers?

Dr. Perkins —

That’s it in a nutshell. Much of our research is now directed toward learning the most effective ways of correcting false beliefs about drinking. But the development of programs to address these misperceptions still has a long way to go. A number of good techniques are emerging now to collect and communicate data on norms and misperceptions.

To reduce misperceptions, colleges use such methods as newspaper articles, ads, posters, and media events. These have notable success.

At my own college we are using campus computing and email. We also introduce this perspective in the classroom. We need more techniques, however, and more studies about their relative effectiveness.

Hanson —

I think more educators, parents, and news people should be aware of this effective new approach. Thank you for describing it.

Dr. Perkins —

You’re welcome.

Way to Reduce Alcohol Abuse

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