January 2011

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Health Capsule

Reducing College Drinking

College students are less likely to get drunk when universities and surrounding communities work together to reduce drinking, a new study finds. Similar strategies may help reduce drinking on campuses nationwide.

Each year among U.S. college students, alcohol contributes to about 1,800 deaths, 600,000 unintentional injuries and 700,000 assaults. Many college efforts have tried to reduce drinking by targeting students on campus. But fewer studies have looked at a broader approach.

To test a community-based program, NIH-funded scientists worked with 14 public universities. Half the schools used community-based alcohol interventions for at least 2 years. The program included drunk-driving checkpoints, better prevention of alcohol sales to minors and stiffer penalties to prevent parties that disturb the peace. The other 7 schools were monitored for comparison.

The researchers analyzed about 20,000 online student surveys collected over 4 years. Results showed that students at the intervention schools were much less likely to drink to intoxication at off-campus parties, bars and restaurants.

“Nearly as significant was that we saw no concurrent increase in drinking at non-targeted settings such as parks, beaches or residence halls,” says lead researcher Dr. Robert Saltz of the Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, California. “Some fear that more rigorous alcohol control measures will merely drive college student drinking to other, presumably more dangerous, settings. But this was not the case here.”