How prevalent is alcohol use on campus?
Alcohol use by college students is a concern of parents and college administrators alike, not to mention the students themselves. High-profile media coverage of alcohol overdoses and alcohol use among college students has raised awareness of the college drinking culture. Terms like power hour, beer pong, and beer bong -widely understood by high school and college students - may be unfamiliar to many parents. These things, combined with the adjustment of a child leaving home, can contribute to a parent’s anxiety and concern for a son or daughter.
Research indicates that over 79% of college students have used alcohol1. At William and Mary, the percentage is 82.9% of all students. Binge drinking, or heavy episodic drinking, is generally the cause of the adverse effects of alcohol. Binge drinking is typically defined as 5 drinks for men and 4 drinks for women in a period of about 2 hours2.
National estimates of binge drinking range from 33% to 48% of all college students. According to a recent survey of William & Mary students, 42.3% reported having 5 or more drinks in a row during the two weeks prior to being surveyed. However, research also suggests that the percentage of students who abstain from alcohol is increasing. Moreover, 74% of college students in Virginia consume alcohol once a week or less, or not at all3.
Many things influence a college student’s decision to drink. Socially, using alcohol is acceptable among peers. Whether alcohol use is viewed as a rite of passage or as a social lubricant, the desire to belong can be a powerful influence. Students generally overestimate alcohol use of their peers. William & Mary students are no exception.
In a recent survey, students overestimated alcohol use by their peers. Perceptions that everyone is drinking, or that everyone is drinking more than they actually are, can influence an individual’s decision to drink. Alcohol is also a cheap and widely available way to socialize on college campuses. Our society communicates constant messages that alcohol is an acceptable and expected part of the college experience. First year students, with abundant freedom and unstructured time, may be more likely to misuse alcohol, especially during their first six weeks of school.
1American College Health Association – National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Data Report Spring 2010. Baltimore: American College Health Associations; 2010.
2National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. NIAAA council approves definition of binge drinking. NIAAA Newsletter 2004; No. 3, p. 3. [PDF–1.62MB]
3Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, 2003
What are the particular risks for college students when they drink alcohol?
It is estimated that alcohol contributed to 1,700 deaths, 599,000 injuries, 696,000 assaults, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault among college students in 20014. Students that use or misuse alcohol risk a number of personal, emotional, legal, judicial, and health problems. Most, if not all, college students will experience negative effects of alcohol, either due to their own choices or the choices of others. It is estimated that the actions of one person who has been drinking affects up to 5 other people. The chart below lists common second-hand effects of binge drinking.
Effects of Binge Drinking5
percentage of students affected
Insulted or humiliated 21-36%
Unwanted sexual advance 15-23%
Serious argument or quarrel 14-24%
Pushed, hit, or assaulted 6-11%
Had property damaged 7-16%
Had studying/sleep interrupted 43-71%
Been a victim of sexual assault or date rape 0.6-1%
Experienced at least one of the above problems 64-86%
4Hingson, Heeren, Winter, & Wechsler, 2005
5Wechsler et al, 2000
Is it realistic to think that students will choose not to drink at College? What are the rates for abstinence?
Research conducted at California State University, Sacramento revealed that parents of first year students tended to underestimate alcohol and other drug use by their sons and daughters6. At William & Mary, while 17% of students never reported using alcohol, the other 83% have consumed alcohol. However, it is important to keep in mind that although many students do consume alcohol, most do so in a responsible way. Of the William & Mary students who do drink, 98% of them employ a strategy to reduce risk of injury or harm.
These strategies include:
- limiting or tracking drinks;
- avoiding drinking games;
- using a designated driver;
- and eating before alcohol consumption.
Also, 64% of William & Mary students had 4 or fewer drinks the last time they partied.
Parents have a unique opportunity to influence the decisions of first-year students. The College encourages parents to initiate a discussion about alcohol with their students, creating shared, realistic expectations regarding alcohol use.
What policies are in place at William & Mary to address the problem of alcohol abuse on campus?
The College employs a number of policies to reduce the abuse of alcohol on campus. The Campus Alcohol Policy, which is published yearly in the Student Handbook, mirrors Virginia’s alcohol laws and is enforced by the William & Mary Police, Residence Life Staff, and the Office of the Dean of Students. William & Mary’s alcohol policies are explicitly written both to control individual use of alcohol and to govern events at which alcohol might be present. Alcohol is not permitted in the public areas of freshman residences. Students found to have violated the Campus Alcohol Policy are typically required to participate in a mandatory educational activity. William & Mary has a Parental Notification Policy in which parents are notified of alcohol violations if one of two conditions is met. First, parents are notified if the student has provided a signed release of information form to the Office of the Dean of Students. Second, the College routinely notifies parents in those cases where a student’s involvement with alcohol appears to pose a serious risk to the student’s health or safety. Regardless, students are encouraged to discuss their behavior and the related consequences with their parents. The Office of the Dean of Students is available as a resource to assist parents and students with these conversations.
Addressing the problem of high risk drinking is a large undertaking that William & Mary takes incredibly seriously. The College takes a comprehensive approach to substance abuse prevention utilizing national recommendations. The Office of Health Education (OHE) takes the lead in on-campus prevention efforts. Through the OHE, all first-year students are required to complete a three-hour online program called AlcoholEdu for the College. Additionally, first-year students attend an Orientation program called “Sex & Alcohol: Making a Tribe Choice” that encourages healthy choices involving alcohol use or other risky behaviors. The concept of “Making a Tribe Choice” is reinforced in a campus wide social marketing campaign that encourages the use of strategies to reduce risk o r harm associated with alcohol use. The F.I.S.H. (Free Information on Student Health) Bowl is a resource center for students, providing information on all health topics pertinent to college students. The Office of Health Education works with Student Activities to provide TIPS Training to all interested students. TIPS is a nationally recognized program that teaches individuals to understand the effects of alcohol and to recognize levels of intoxication. Student organizations holding events where alcohol is served are required to be TIPS certified. The Office of Health Education advises the Health Outreach Peer Educators, a student organization dedicated to educating William & Mary students about health related issues. In addition, the College offers a variety of alcohol-free programs. Alma Mater Productions (AMP) provides late night and alcohol-free entertainment for students throughout the academic year.
6Krogen & Carlson, 2004
What resources are available to me if I am interested in learning more about alcohol education programs?
AlcoholEdu is a non-opinionated, online alcohol prevention program that uses science-based research to educate students about alcohol and its effects. Every incoming student is required to complete AlcoholEdu. First-year students will access AlcoholEdu through the myWM portal. Because parents are a valuable and trusted source of information for W&M students, we invite you to take AlcoholEdu for College as well. Please email [[alcoholedu]] for login instructions, additional information, or questions.
As a parent, what can I do to help reduce my student’s risk of experiencing alcohol-related problems?
Parents are the greatest influence on students’ decisions regarding alcohol and other drug use at college. Clearly stating your expectations and beliefs regarding alcohol and other drugs can be the most influential factor in your son’s or daughter’s decision to use or abstain. According to a survey conducted among William & Mary students, 71% of students recognized parents as a source of believable health information. As a parent, you play a critical role in the prevention of alcohol abuse on campus. The following are some tips and resources to help yo ur college student:
Talk to your son or daughter.
- Have an open and honest discussion that creates shared expectations, not only about alcohol, but also about grades, coursework, and other activities.
- Be honest about your family’s history and your current behavior regarding alcohol use.
- Avoid telling stories about your college experience that involve alcohol. This may be interpreted as condoning use or heavy use of alcohol.
- Ask your son or daughter how he/she would handle specific situations. (How can you refuse a drink? How will you determine to drink or not? What will you do if your roommate comes home intoxicated?)
- Call frequently during the first six weeks of school. This is a critical time of adjustment, as well as a time of exploration.
Confront myths and misinformation.
- Challenge perceptions that everyone drinks or that everyone gets drunk.
- Confront traditions that include drinking.
- Remind your son or daughter that leaving home does not mean leaving behind your family’s values, respect for the law, or personal health.
Teach and encourage low-risk behavior.
- Discuss that abstinence is always a safe decision.
- Discuss low-risk behaviors including limiting drinks to no more than 1 per hour, and no more than 3 on any one occasion.
- Discuss using and being a designated driver. A designated driver should be a person who has consumed no alcohol.
- Stress the importance of having a plan to get home safely before social activities begin.
Caution your student about the second-hand effects of alcohol.
- Discuss how the decisions of others can affect your son or daughter. Talk through strategies for situations in which high-risk drinking is taking place.
- Teach your student how to recognize the signs of alcohol overdose and how to get help if needed.
- Encourage your son or daughter to help others who are engaging in high-risk drinking.
Seek support and information for yourself from a reliable source, such as the William & Mary Counseling Center, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of Health Education, or the Student Health Center. Many resources are available to parents on the web. Some helpful sites are:www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov
What other drug(s) should I discuss with my son/daughter?
After alcohol, the most widely used drugs used on American college and university campuses are tobacco and marijuana. The College restricts tobacco use in all academic and public buildings, including the residence halls. William & Mary staff and police are trained in marijuana identification and interdiction as they enforce laws and policies. The most recent research on marijuana finds it to be a serious drug with many negative consequences. These consequences include: dependence, addiction, amotivational syndrome, reduced cognitive functioning, compromised immune system functioning, reduced testosterone, and pulmonary problems. An emerging class of abused drugs is prescription medication. Research indicates that one in ten teenagers has illicitly used over-the-counter or prescription medication. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are painkillers like OxyContin and stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. If your son or daughter currently uses a prescription drug, please communicate that the medication is for his/her use only and is to be used only as specified by a physician.