College Students Can Drink Responsibly if Left Alone, Study Finds

July 30, 2006

Despite campus campaigns to crack down on underage drinking, college students continue to drink, but they have devised ways to do so safely, according to the results of a survey released last week by the National Social Norms Resource Center. And the center regards those safety-minded techniques as an endorsement of its social-norms approach, which says punitive action to control alcohol abuse is ineffective but says methods to persuade students to drink responsibly can work.

Among the “protective behaviors” that the survey found many students have adopted are avoiding drinking games, downing no more than one drink per hour, using a designated driver, watching out for classmates who have had too much, and, sometimes, not drinking at all.

The implication of the findings is that, left to their own devices and without the oppressive overlay of campus alcohol bans, students will choose to be moderate, responsible drinkers and will, as a result, stay out of trouble. College officials should simply do what they can to encourage students to adopt more of those protective behaviors.

The results come from a survey of 28,000 students by the American College Health Association, and the center’s report on them will be published in the September/October issue of the Journal of American College Health.