College Drinking Behavior

1383254550151 (1)There are two ways to look at alcohol consumption—by frequency and by quantity. What I have been seeing on campus is that most students don’t drink frequently, yet when they do drink it is at a high quantity. A smaller percentage of the students will do both, frequent and in high quantity. These students who don’t drink frequently, but in high quantity will naturally see less of the negative consequences of drinking and thus be more willing to accept drinking heavily on the weekends as a normal part of college.

In general, college students do not see anything wrong with their own drinking habits, but are quick to identify those self-destructive habits in others. The truth is, students are far less concerned with their drinking behavior than the campus administration is. I often hear from students that they already know everything they need to about alcohol and drinking.

The students—no matter what year in school—say that alcohol education programs should be for others and not for themselves. Seniors say it’s best for freshmen, whereas freshmen say it is best for high school students and so forth.

When asking students if their drinking behaviors are a problem, the students say they would not consider them problems unless they occurred frequently. There are also misconceptions about the drinking norms across campus. This leads students to be more accepting of risky drinking behavior. Taking a look into social psychology research, students view their own problems as situation specific, whereas the problems of others are behavioral.[1] The social aspects of college often revolve around alcohol with their own customs. Dating situations are typically structured around alcohol, and certain social groups with high drinking reputations are often regarded with a high social status.1

Dating in college can be quite a challenge—and that’s after you’ve gotten someone to agree to go out with you! When it comes to dinner out and a movie, fine dining is a real stretch on a student’s budget. The two-for-one drinks and all-you-can-eat appetizers at the local watering hole can start to look pretty good. So what if you have to begin the evening’s festivities at 4pm in order to get a head start on the cheap beer and stale pretzels. Plus, that’s where all of your friends will be hanging out anyway…let the games begin!

My role of crime prevention officer entailed giving presentations to student groups, and I would estimate that to date, I have presented to more than 7,400 students. During these presentations, I often ask the students to share some safe drinking tips with me. Each time, they recite the list of common-sense safe drinking tips, showing that they have the knowledge, but choose to not follow it. They can easily identify dangerous drinking behavior in others but are slow to see it in themselves. Yet when they “over serve” them-selves, they chalk it up to being part of the normal experience.

[1] Walters, Scott T., and John Samuel Baer. Talking with College Students about Alcohol: Motivational Strategies for Reducing Abuse. New York: Guilford Press, 2006.

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