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Drinking campaign fails Study: College alcohol abuse unaffected by responsible drinking campaign
Web posted Saturday, July 26, 2003 1:04 a.m. CT
From staff and wire reports
Attempts to curb binge drinking on college campuses have failed, according to a report by the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study.
The report, released Wednesday, said that so-called "social norms marketing" campaigns that were keyed toward moderation found that alcohol abuse increased at some campuses that employed the marketing campaign.
Social norms marketing blankets campuses with posters and fliers that promote moderation by reinforcing evidence that students who drink to excess are the exception, not the rule. Many colleges have adopted the campaigns since the mid-1990s, subsidized by alcohol manufacturers and various government agencies which have spent $8 million on the campaigns nationwide, the study said.
No Formal Programs at Area Campuses
Neither West Texas A&M nor Amarillo College have formal social norms programs.
WT has researched the program but hasn't moved forward on it, said Prairie Burgess, the university's assistant director of the student center.
She said that studies she has seen point out that the purpose of social norms programs is to get students to understand that not everyone drinks "because that's a very common perception, especially for freshman."
Amarillo College isn't a residential campus so drinking in dorms isn't so much of an issue there, said Judy Jackman.
She said the school tries to create awareness through periodic workshops and video showings.
"We just try to make a point that you can have a lot of fun without drinking," she said, adding "We don't feel like we have the problem with the majority of our campus drinking and driving."
She said there are "so many" issues the students say they need to know about - date rape, domestic violence and safe sex - and they don't feel drinking and driving is a problem.
Social norms marketing "looks great and it's not expensive to do," said Henry Wechsler, the director of the Harvard study. "The only problem is that it doesn't seem to work. It's a feel good program."
The report surveyed drinking patterns on 98 campuses, 37 of which have used social norms programs for one year. It measured for alcohol abuse in seven different ways. But no improvement in habits was found on social norms campuses by any of the measures, the study said.
Burgess said that a year's study isn't long enough to really know if the programs work.
The alternative to social norms marketing, he said, is for states and municipalities to crack down on low-priced alcohol specials offered by off-campus bars and liquor stores.
The man credited with starting the social norms movement in the 1980s took exception to Wechsler's findings.
"The case studies we've seen are finding a 20 percent reduction in the high-risk college drinking rate" over two year periods, said H. Wesley Perkins, a sociology professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.
Perkins called the report the latest in a series of efforts by Wechsler to discredit social norms marketing.
John Kaestner, the vice president for consumer affairs for Anheuser-Busch, said the social norms movement - backed financially by the brewery - is an effective tool in preventing alcohol abuse.
"Common sense says this program has a tremendous amount of merit," said Kaestner. "And we ought to give it a chance to work rather than take a shot at it."
The Associated Press and Amarillo Globe-News Staff Writer George Schwarz contributed to this report.