Study finds some alcohol programs have little impact on greek communities

Programs that focus on goal-setting and moderation have been found to be less effective.

Aaron Job

Students involved in greek life often remain unaffected by alcohol intervention programs, a recent study has found. 

The study, conducted by the American Psychological Association,  found that alcohol education programs have had little impact on the drinking habits of those in fraternities and sororities.

Published in Health Psychology earlier this month, the APA’s research analyzed data from 15 studies completed between 1987 and 2014 that examined 21 intervention methods and more than 6,000 university students nationwide.

Although the study found that some programs that aim to reduce drinking and alcohol abuse were effective in greek organizations, those that focused on goal-setting and moderation strategies achieved lower success rates. 

“This is a way to kind of get a big-picture sense of what many different investigators from many different locations with many different interventions are finding,” said Kate Carey, a co-author of the study and professor at Brown University’s School of Public Health. “We don’t have effective interventions that help [greeks] to reduce risky drinking. [That] doesn’t mean that they can’t reduce drinking; it means the ways that we’ve gone about it have not been effective.”

According to a 2013 Boynton Health Service Survey, nearly 35 percent of the University of Minnesota’s student body has participated in high-risk drinking — defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting. In fraternities, about 63 percent of members participated, the survey said. 

University greek members drank around 25 percent more than non-greek students in the past 30 days. Among 22-year-old respondents, nearly all who were greek members reported drinking within the last 30 days, compared to about 75 percent of 22-year-old, non-greek students, the survey said.

Despite programs aimed at reducing high-risk drinking, fraternities and sororities tend to normalize drinking, Carey said.

“We need to tailor interventions a little bit more specifically to the risk factors and the lifestyles, and the values that fit the whole context of greek life,” Carey said.

Former Beta Theta Pi President Nate Wong said he doesn’t think greek life members drink any more or less than other students and that supervised drinking in fraternities provides a safer outlet for alcohol consumption. 

 “[Drinking is] not the focal point. … I would say it’s an organized, structured system where [drinking is] able to be done safely, I guess. …  The likelihood of someone being left on the street is a lot less when you have an organized system of people taking care of each other,” he said. 

Dave Golden, Boynton Health Service communications director, said he didn’t find the study surprising, adding that most education-based prevention programs aren’t effective in lowering the rate of over-drinking.

“Students know a lot about alcohol,” he said. “It’s much more complicated than saying intervention strategies don’t work,” Golden said.

Every two weeks, a University Alcohol Policy and Abuse Prevention Committee meets to discuss, plan and review practices. The committee is comprised of several different University groups, such as the University of Minnesota Police Department, Boynton Health Service and the Interfraternity Council. 

“You need multi-level, multi-strategy techniques to impact a population,” said Golden. “There’s more things going on at once than just an intervention thing.”

Toben Nelson, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at the University, said he is working to make educational alcohol programs in greek life most similar to policies surrounding alcohol sales. 

He said by restructuring policies regarding alcohol availability, the University and greek life could have more success with existing alcohol programs.

“If you own a bar, you’re held accountable. You have training; there’s limitations on what you can and can’t do. That seems to be the best way in controlling the consequences of drinking,” Nelson said. “There isn’t a keg in the middle of the floor that anyone can walk up to and take a drink from.”