April 19, 2002

NIH Attempts to Reduce College Drinking

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH), released the first report on college drinking on April 9 at a news conference in Washington D.C, which incorporates recommendations from Philip Meilman, Cornell’s director of counseling and psychological services and Susan Murphy, vice president for student and academic services at Cornell. The report suggests a number of ways that might be effective in changing the college drinking culture, some of which have already been instituted in various programs at Cornell.

Cornell’s administration along with students have tried to make changes in the drinking culture on campus through a range of programs such as BASICS, CAPS and Slope Fest, which offers an alternative to drinking on Slope Day.

“NIH commissioned an exhaustive set of papers to be written on almost every conceivable aspect of collegiate drinking. In this way, it has tried to pull together all the available research on student drinking patterns and effective approaches to reducing problems,” said Meilman.

The report, entitled “A Call To Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges,” was a three year project sponsored by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that identifies the factors and patterns that may be involved in alcohol abuse by college students, and ways in which schools might curb binge and underage drinking in the future.

“I think in the future we will see more schools instituting brief motivational interventions, like the BASICS program we started at Cornell this fall, since it is one of the few strategies with research indicating its effectiveness among college students,” said Gannett Health Educator, Deborah Lewis in response to the NIH report.

The BASICS program offers a judgment-free environment in which students can evaluate their drinking risks, and find prospective changes for a particular student that may work to reduce risk of developing alcohol related problems in the future. CAPS offers support groups and one on one counseling throughout the school year for students with alcohol related concerns.

Meilman’s chapter of the report, co-written by Cheryl A. Presley of student health programs at Southern Illinois University and Jami Leichliter of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, focuses on factors that influence college drinking. The chapter examines the role that factors such as age, race, gender, athletics, geographical region and participation in Greek societies play in college drinking.

Murphy contributed the chapter called “So What Is an Administrator to Do?” which focuses on different approaches that different schools can take to reduce binge and underage drinking on College campuses.

“There’s no single solution to the complex problem of alcohol abuse. That’s why we need to use multiple strategies. It involves reshaping the campus environment, educating students, and providing counseling to those who have alcohol or other drug problems,” said Tim Marchell, class of 1982, director of alcohol policy initiatives and health educator at Cornell.

In her chapter Murphy emphasizes the challenges that Greek organizations pose in the regulations of alcohol and supports intervention strategies to control alcohol at campus events such as those organized by fraternities and sororities. In this respect, she said that the students and student leaders play an important role in the reduction of alcohol related problems.

Renaissance is one student organization on campus that is working to change the culture and ideas about alcohol use on campus.

“Alcohol isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s the way alcohol is used. Changing the drinking culture is a tall order, and it would be very presumptuous of me to [say] that we’ve definitely made a change. This kind of change is going to take a long time, and I don’t think that new rules or a more strictly enforced code is going to bring about the change. Students are the ones who have the power on this issue, because they’re the ones that will make the final choice about how to drink,” said Alexa Mills, president of Renaissance, class of ’03.

The organization is a student coalition that works towards improving the social scene at Cornell by working with students and administrators to offer more social, alcohol free options on campus. Renaissance is not necessarily working to end alcohol use.

“Student leaders play a vital role in bringing about cultural change. For example, students are working to reduce alcohol-related hazing, increase late-night programming, and inform the development of alcohol policies,” said Marchell.

Both the reports of Meilmen and Murphy support the contention that there is no one solution that will be effective on every campus as many other factors

need to be taken into account.

The report supports the idea that campuses need to set “realistic but visionary” goals concerning alcohol use on college campuses and the policies

created to control it.

“Often these goals will not be for total prohibition-in fact, one could argue that such policies have already failed miserably in this country. Yet, at the same time, a call for moderation should not be seen as an acceptance that alcohol culture is intractable and simply a ‘rite of passage,'” wrote Murphy in the report.

Archived article by Carrie Tremblatt