Student Perceptions About Campus Drinking Policies and Potential Impact on Alcohol Consumption

Abstract

Despite stringent drinking policies among various colleges and universities, inappropriate alcohol consumption continues to persist among college students (e.g., DeJong, Towvim, & Schneider, 2007; Lavigne, Witt, Wood, Laforge, & DeJong, 2008; Turner, Perkins, & Bauerle, 2008). This study was conducted with 210 college students. Their perceptions of the drinking policy were assessed using the 2001 Survey of College Alcohol Norms and Behavior (SCANB, National Institutes of Health, 2002). The researchers hypothesized that students' attitudes towards drinking and their support of their campus alcohol policy are predictors of students' level of alcohol consumption and their adherence to their campus alcohol policy. Results supported the hypothesis that students' attitudes towards drinking and their support of their campus alcohol policy were predictors of a student's adherence to policy. Without student support of their campus drinking policy and congruent attitudes of drinking among students and administration, students are more likely to violate campus alcohol policies.

High-risk drinking behaviors and the related consequences remain a serious problem at U.S. colleges and universities. Even though most colleges have policies set in place to curb the consumption of alcohol and lower the major risks associated with alcohol, college students continue to violate campus alcohol policies (e.g., Lavigne, Witt, Wood, Laforge, & DeJong, 2008; Turner, Perkins, & Bauerle, 2008). The decisions that young people make about alcohol use may be shaped by their values and beliefs. Therefore, college students’ adherence to their campus alcohol polices may likely correspond to students’ attitudes toward drinking and their support of their campus alcohol policies.

Adherence to campus alcohol policies can be measured by the frequency of students who engage in high-risk drinking behaviors. Knight, Wechsler, Meichun, Seibring, Weitzman, and Schuckit (2002) suggests that there are a high number of college students who are engaging in high-risk drinking behaviors. According to Knight et al., about 31% of college students meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV) criteria for abuse; whereas, 6% are classified as alcohol dependent. Hingson, Heeren, Winter, and Wechsler (2005) found that more than 1,700 college students aged 18-24 years who are enrolled in 2 and 4 year colleges and universities die annually from alcohol-related unintentional injuries. Nearly 80% of these deaths are due to motor vehicle accidents. These statistics demonstrate the consequence and prevalence of high-risk drinking behaviors which need to be addressed.

In order to decrease high-risk drinking behaviors, many colleges are enacting preventative policies and stricter enforcement of these drinking policies, and most students are supporting them. Ringwalt, Paschall, and Gitelman (2011) found that half of the 22 colleges that they assessed engaged in high intensity policy enforcement strategies. Research (e.g., DeJong, Towvim, & Schneider, 2007; Saltz, 2007; Wechsler, Eun Lee, Nelson, & Meichun, 2002) has found that a majority of students support these prevention policies and stricter enforcement strategies. DeJong, Towvim, and Schneider (2007) surveyed 32 colleges and universities about students' support of various policies and enforcement strategies. The majority at all 32 schools reported support for the use of stricter disciplinary sanctions for students who engage in alcohol-related violence and for those who repeatedly violate campus alcohol policy. Students are supporting more preventative policies and stricter enforcement of policies in order to decrease high-risk drinking behaviors.

Many colleges have maintained “dry” campuses preventative strategies where alcohol sales and consumption are banned as a means to prevent college alcohol abuse and alcohol-related consequences, but few researchers have studied the effects of these preventions. Wechsler, Lee, Gledhill-Hoyt, and Nelson's (2001) study is one of the few that examined the effect of banning alcohol on college campuses. He and his colleagues surveyed a nationally representative sample of students at 4-year colleges to test whether schools that ban alcohol have lower rates of alcohol use and heavy episodic drinking. Wechsler et al. found that students who attend schools that banned alcohol were 30% less likely to engage in binge drinking and more likely to abstain from using alcohol than were students who attended schools where alcohol was not banned. But, Taylor, Johnson, and Voas (2006) found that the campus alcohol policies have a limited effect on the drinking patterns of college students because campus alcohol policies present only one point of intervention. Restricting alcohol consumption on campus has its limits in preventing alcohol abuse and alcohol-related problems.

A student's awareness of alcohol policies and attitudes toward drinking may affect an individual's adherence to their campus drinking policy. Marshall, Roberts, and Rutledge (2011) examined students’ knowledge and attitudes towards their campus drinking policies in relation to the students’ alcohol consumption and alcohol social norms. They surveyed 422 freshmen during their first month at a 4-year university. Findings showed that a student’s attitudes regarding campus alcohol policies were significantly correlated with a student’s consumption of alcohol. The majority of students (89%) had knowledge of campus policies and of those who were aware of these policies, less than half (44%) supported these policies. In addition, the majority (79%) violated their campus alcohol policies. However, those who indicated support of their campus alcohol policies consumed significantly less than those who indicated opposition to these policies. Wechsler, Lee, Nelson, and Meichun (2002) findings supported Marshall et al. that an underage college students' support of campus alcohol policies to prevent underage drinking corresponded to the student's drinking behavior.

Because of the limited data and contradictory findings, the present study sought to gather data related to college students’ perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of their campus alcohol policies. The aim of this study was to find whether students’ attitudes towards drinking and whether they supported their campus alcohol policies were related to their alcohol consumption and violation of their campus alcohol policies. The researchers hypothesized that students' attitude towards drinking and their support of their campus alcohol policy are predictors of students' level of alcohol consumption and their adherence to their campus alcohol policy.

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