Colleges Not Meeting Guidelines to Limit Alcohol Access

Release Date: July 20, 2010 | By Susan Kreimer, Contributing Writer
Research Source:

While many have implicated heavy student drinking in recent disturbances –– even tragedies –– on college campuses, few schools and communities have united successfully in curbing alcohol access, a new study suggests.

For instance, news reports described a history of hard drinking by the University of Virginia lacrosse player charged with murdering his former girlfriend in May.

Administrators perceive student drinking as a major concern, but they focus a lot on individual interventions and campus-based alcohol restrictions, and not enough on toughening community policies, said Toben Nelson, Sc.D., a study author and University of Minnesota researcher.

For the study, administrators from 351 schools responded to an online survey in 2008. The study appears online and in the October issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

In their survey of four-year institutions, researchers asked whether they were following recommendations from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Its college drinking task force had issued a report in 2002 grouping strategies based on effectiveness and relevance to students.

Six years later, “we found very little action on the task force recommendations and very little implementation,” said Nelson, an assistant professor in the epidemiology and community health division. “Very few had even had conversations in the communities.”

Evidence shows that community-based alcohol control is effective in reducing college drinking. Policies include monitoring illegal sales, requiring responsible beverage service training, limiting the number of retail alcohol outlets and increasing prices.

Yet, only a third of college communities performed compliance checks for illegal sales, while 15 percent mandated server training, the survey indicated. Only 7 percent restricted alcohol outlet density in the community and 2 percent raised prices.

Most administrators knew about the recommendations, but more than 22 percent did not.

Nearly all colleges –– 98 percent –– educated students about the consequences of excessive drinking. The most common methods consisted of lectures, meetings or workshops, followed by poster campaigns, then online and computer-based programs.

At each school, researchers targeted an administrator most informed about alcohol initiatives. Typically, the administrator was the vice president of student affairs or dean of students.

About two of three colleges reported providing intervention for problem drinkers or those at high risk, either on campus or through payment for off-campus services. However, almost one in four of these colleges did not offer any programs supported by scientific evidence.

The survey confirmed that administrators face challenges in changing the drinking culture, said alcohol researcher David Hanson, Ph.D., a professor emeritus of sociology at SUNY Potsdam. “So it’s not surprising,” he said, “that they don’t try to change the whole nature of their community.”

A large number of administrators participated, enabling researchers to collect a lot of information, said Gail Milgram, Ed.D., a professor emerita in the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers. “It shows that colleges, for the most part, are more aware that alcohol consumption is an issue,” she said, “and are making strides to deal with that.”

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Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research: Contact Mary Newcomb at (317) 375-0819 or or visit

Nelson TF, et al. Implementation of NIAAA College Drinking Task Force recommendations. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 34(10), 2010.

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Alcohol/Drug Abuse   Health and Education  

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