Addressing Alcohol Use on Campus

Traditional Prevention Approaches

Historically, institutions of higher education (IHEs) have addressed the issues of student alcohol use by focusing on education and intervention strategies that target students individually. Many of the typical education and awareness programs offered on campuses are based on the idea that students simply don't have enough information on the dangers of alcohol use: teach them, and their behavior will change.

These kinds of programs are offered during freshman orientation, in conjunction with an Alcohol Awareness Week, or through peer education programs. On some campuses, lessons about the dangers of alcohol use are integrated into course work, a strategy known as curriculum infusion. Evaluation data from typical education and awareness programs demonstrate that while such programs may be a necessary and productive component of a more comprehensive alcohol prevention strategy, they are ineffective when used as stand-alone programs.

A Comprehensive Approach

Drawing on more than two decades of prevention research, the Higher Education Center developed a comprehensive approach to student alcohol use, which addresses the issues not only through educational channels but also by bringing about change at the institutional, community, and public policy level. This approach is grounded in the principle that people's attitudes, decisions, and behavior'and in this case, those that relate to alcohol use'are shaped by the physical, social, economic, and legal environment. The many aspects of this environment can be shaped by prevention advocates, campus officials, government officials, and others. This model, termed environmental management, has since been supported by scientific research for its effectiveness in bringing about lasting and positive change on a college campus.

Environmental Management

Environmental management addresses several factors that, though they may vary in the degree to which they exist on a college campus, have significant effects on students' decisions regarding alcohol use:

  • Students lack (or lack awareness of) adequate social, recreational, and extracurricular options to deter them from drinking.
  • Students perceive a strong normative pressure to drink in college.
  • College students are often the targets of aggressive marketing and promotion tactics by the alcohol industry.
  • Alcohol is often abundantly available in and around college campuses.
  • Campus and local laws and policies on alcohol can be vague or nonexistent and are not always consistently or adequately enforced.

Accordingly, the environmental management approach employs five strategies to target these factors:

  • Offer and promote social, recreational, extracurricular, and public service alcohol-free options.
  • Create a social, academic, and residential environment that supports health-promoting norms.
  • Restrict marketing and promotion of alcoholic beverages both on and off campus.
  • Limit alcohol availability both on and off campus.
  • Develop campus policies and enforce laws at the campus, local, state, and federal levels.
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