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To Cut Down on College Drinking, Involve the Surrounding Community

To Cut Down on College Drinking, Involve the Surrounding Community



August 5th, 2015


To Cut Down on College Drinking, Involve the Surrounding Community- Join Together News Service from the Partnership for Drug-Free KidsColleges can reduce excessive drinking and intoxication at off-campus parties, as well as nearby bars and restaurants, with a comprehensive prevention program that includes the surrounding community, new research confirms.


Prevention interventions in the study included enforcing laws against selling alcohol to minors, driving-under-the-influence checkpoints, nuisance party enforcement operations, asking campus police to cite hosts of parties when they respond to complaints of loud parties, and use of campus and local media to increase the visibility of these strategies.


The findings come from the second phase of the Safer California University study, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The first phase, conducted over five years, included 14 public universities in California. The schools were paired up based on the level of drinking indicated in annual surveys of 500 students from each campus. In each pair, one school implemented a series of drinking interventions, and the other school, which served as a control group, did not.


The first phase of the study found significant reductions in the incidence and likelihood of intoxication at off-campus parties and bars/restaurants at universities implementing the interventions, compared with the universities that did not implement the program.


“It’s important to do a multi-component approach, so students get the impression the entire community is concerned about drinking, rather than doing just one operation,” says lead researcher Robert Saltz, PhD, Senior Research Scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.


The second phase of the study, which ended in 2013, included the seven schools that had not implemented the prevention program in the first phase, explained Dr. Saltz. “We found the second group of schools, once they implemented the program, moderately reduced the level of intoxication at off-campus parties and bars/restaurants, to a level similar to the first group,” Dr. Saltz said. He will be speaking about the study today at the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) Mid-Year Training Institute in Indianapolis.


The researchers were able to use the experiences learned with the first group of universities to improve the program, he noted. “We became much better in communicating to police departments that the program was about reaching party hosts, not about the number of kids they could catch with alcohol,” Dr. Saltz said. “Our goal was to reduce these large-scale, everybody-is-welcome parties.”


It was easier to convince college administrators to enforce the program because they could show them the evidence from the first phase of the study, he said.


The program includes party patrols—a special squad of officers that operates on evenings when the likelihood of loud parties and noise complaints are high. The party patrol can respond to nuisance party calls and/or patrol student party areas. Party hosts may also call to request assistance with shutting down an out-of-control party.


The program also uses “minor decoy” operations, in which a person under the legal drinking age attempts to purchase alcohol without showing identification from a retail outlet while under observation of law enforcement.


Colleges that want to find out more about the intervention program can use the Safer Universities Program free toolkit, created through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NIAAA.


Dr. Saltz says implementing a large-scale effort such as the Safer Universities program, while proven effective, can be a hard sell for some university administrators. “Some administrators think drinking is so pervasive that they would have to enforce a police state to make any meaningful changes,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the case at all. If students were being hit by cars on the street alongside campus, there would be no controversy over installing traffic signals. That’s the model I’m trying to emphasize.”


Mark Wolfson, PhD, Professor in the Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who conducted a study on using community organizing to cut down on college drinking, agrees that it can be difficult to convince college administrators to implement large-scale programs. “It’s tough for colleges to move into things that go beyond their campus,” he said.


He led the Study to Prevent Alcohol-Related Consequences, which included five universities in North Carolina that put together coalitions of campus administrators, faculty and staff, students and community members. Participants on each campus developed a strategic plan for their school. The universities were compared with five similar schools that did not implement an alcohol intervention.


Campuses that implemented the strategy saw a dramatic decrease in alcohol-related injuries, the researchers reported in 2012 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.


Strategies included restricting access to alcohol by underage or intoxicated students, increasing or improving coordination between campus and community police, and establishing consistent disciplinary actions for those who violated policies.


Providing counseling and education to students isn’t enough to reduce college drinking, Dr. Wolfson argues. “We also need to focus on the environment of the college and the surrounding community. For instance, we need to ask, ‘Is there a strip with high density of bars and restaurants that offer drink specials that cater to college students? Are there student apartments with parties spilling out of them every weekend? These environments undercut the educational messages of the colleges and promote high availability of alcohol.”