July 17, 2009

Colleges not hotbeds of alcohol abuse

Conventional wisdom says binge drinking on college campuses is prevalent, but there's been no significant upward trend in campus alcohol, U.S. researchers say.

Contrary to popular belief, around 80 percent of 18- to 22-year-old undergraduates are not heavy drinkers, and there has been no significant upward trend in the consumption of alcohol on college campuses over the past decade or so, Dr. James C. Turner of the University of Virginia says in a statement.

An accurate understanding and portrayal of positive behaviors would help foster similar positive behaviors among other students. This type of communication characterizes the social norms approach.

The research shows that students overestimate the frequency and amount of drinking among their peers, underestimate the degree to which peers use protective behaviors such as designated drivers or counting drinks and that many students believe their peer's attitudes about drinking to be more permissive than they actually are.

In another study, Turner looked at the 20 years of mortality statistics for University of Virginia students starting in 1989. Following a social norms marketing campaign, results show a 68 percent decline in overall alcohol-related mortality rates, a 48 percent decrease in motor vehicle accident mortality rates compared to the decade preceding the campaign.

The studies were presented at the National Conference on the Social Norms Approach in Minneapolis.