Despite the fact that it is illegal for most college students to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages, 68% of college students have been drunk at least once in their lifetime, 64% report drinking in the past month, and 36% report binge drinking in the past two weeks according to the 2011 Monitoring the Future Study. Despite recent downward trends in underage drinking, college students have a substantial amount of experience with alcohol.
A new National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsored study demonstrated that a coordinated effort between college campuses and surrounding communities that address alcohol availability, alcohol policies, enforcement, disciplinary actions, and harm reduction and drinking norms can be effective in reducing high-risk college drinking and its consequences. The Study to Prevent Alcohol Related Consequences (SPARC) research conducted at ten universities in North Carolina compared five schools that created campus-community coalitions that developed and implemented strategic alcohol intervention plans to five similar colleges that did not implement an alcohol intervention. Implemented over a three year period the study examined the efficacy of a comprehensive intervention to reduce high-risk drinking and its consequences.
The SPARC research measured high-risk drinking by the number of days of alcohol consumed, number of binge drinking occasions, maximum number of drinks consumed in the past 30 days, and number of days one gets drunk in a typical week. Measures of alcohol-related consequences included unintentional injury from drinking and driving, physical and sexual assault, health problems, unsafe and unplanned sexual activity, sexual harassment, impaired sleep and study time, as well as interpersonal problems. Although the SPARC intervention affected consequences associated with high-risk drinking it did not measurably change the level of student drinking. However, principal investigators believe after several years of implementation even the modest reductions in harm will translate into many students being helped by the interventions estimating that on campuses with a SPARC intervention fewer students will experience at least one severe consequence of drinking monthly and fewer students will be injured by others due to drinking.
The Century Council applauds the NIH for sponsoring such research and advancing the fight against binge drinking. We have long believed it takes everyone to fight underage drinking and for nearly two decades have been in the forefront in the fight against college binge drinking. The collective actions of key stakeholders has been the foundation of many The Century Council initiatives going back to our support for George Mason University’s Promising Practices effort in 1995.
Our own newest Binge Drinking initiative focuses on a comprehensive approach that starts with the students and involves the entire community including campus administrators, law enforcement, physicians, judicial professionals, and parents. The lack of significant progress in reducing overconsumption drinking on college campuses necessitated the need to identify new ways of thinking about this issue including new definitions, messages, ways of delivering the ideas and messages, and interventions that resonate with the students. Our binge drinking initiatives help facilitate new thinking and research to address dangerous overconsumption drinking on college campuses.