(AMOD) A MATTER OF DEGREE: The National Effort to Reduce High-Risk Drinking Among College Students

High Risk in Higher Education
On one out of three American college campuses, more than half of all students engage in high-risk drinking, consuming four to five or more drinks in a row. And more than one-third of these students are living what's called a "party lifestyle," characterized by frequent, deliberate intoxication.

Though this behavior is often glamorized by popular culture and viewed as a rite of passage by many, these young people are seven to 10 times more likely than their peers to suffer harm as a result of excessive alcohol use. They also create serious problems – physical assault and intimidation, property damage and interrupted sleep and study time – for those students who do not drink to excess.

The consequences for all? Impaired academic performance and a compromised educational environment, where the safety and quality of life for students is diminished.

Wasted Youth: The Facts

  • According to a Harvard School of Public Health study, nearly half of all college students who abused alcohol during the 1993 academic year experienced five or more serious problems, including missing class, physical injury, arguing with friends and engaging in unprotected sex, which could lead to HIV infection.
  • On campuses where more than half of the students drink to excess, 87 percent of students who live on campus experience one or more problems resulting from alcohol abuse.
  • Heavy-drinking college students are 10 times more likely than their peers to drive after drinking and 74 times more likely to drive after consuming five or more drinks. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among youth.

According to the Harvard study of alcohol use on college campuses, half of the students who abused alcohol reported riding with a driver who was drunk or high, and 40 percent of the males who drank to excess reported driving a car after consuming five or more drinks.

"I went to a fraternity party off campus. I had at least 12 shots of liquor and two mixed drinks. That night I went home with this guy I did not know and had sex with him ... the guy and his roommates carried me home to my dorm room where two RAs caught me. I went to the hospital for alcohol poisoning and rape. I blacked out. I never pressed charges because he used the condom in my wallet."*

Creating Solutions by Changing Environments
In response to these alarming statistics, the American Medical Association and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are working together with ten university-community coalitions that are leading a national effort to reduce alcohol abuse among college students.

A Matter of Degree: The National Effort to Reduce High-Risk Drinking Among College Students is an $8.6 million, multi-year program designed to foster collaboration between participating universities and the communities in which they are located to address this important public health issue and improve the quality of life for all community residents.

"I was having a great night. I drank at least 15 beers, then I blacked out. This is not unusual for me. Another time I became violent, smashed bottles, pushed RAs, and got in tons of trouble."*

Rather than blame students for their behavior or try to persuade them to stop drinking, participants in A Matter of Degree are identifying the environmental factors such as alcohol advertising and marketing, institutional policies and practices, local ordinances—even social and cultural beliefs and behaviors—that converge to encourage alcohol abuse, and work together to create positive changes.

For instance, coalitions may seek to curb the practice of alcohol discounting, such as two-for-one drink specials, inexpensive beer pitcher sales, and other promotions in their communities that encourage excessive drinking. Or perhaps they will work to limit alcohol-industry sponsorship of social events, including sports, concerts and ethnic celebrations.

By forming broad-based campus-community coalitions, participants in A Matter of Degree will create long-lasting changes in the environment that support healthy lifestyle choices and discourage excessive alcohol consumption.

Campus-Community Partnerships
Ten university – community coalitions are building healthier, safer communities. They are:

  • Florida State University – The City of Tallahassee, Florida
  • Georgia Institute of Technology – The City of Atlanta, Georgia
  • Lehigh University – The City of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
  • Louisiana State University – The City of Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • University of Colorado – The City of Boulder, Colorado
  • University of Delaware – The City of Newark, Delaware
  • University of Iowa – Iowa City, Iowa
  • University of Nebraska at Lincoln – The City of Lincoln, Nebraska
  • University of Vermont – The City of Burlington, Vermont
  • University of Wisconsin – The City of Madison, Wisconsin

To learn more about individual coalitions, please see our map with links page. It includes links to AMOD coalition web sites.

AMOD is evaluated by
College Alcohol Study — Harvard School of Public Health

The National Effort
A Matter of Degree is one of two national efforts supported by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to confront the issues and problems associated with youth and alcohol, and create solutions through environmental change. The other, Reducing Underage Drinking Through Coalitions, is 12 broad-based coalitions working to reduce alcohol abuse among minors and create healthier communities. Both programs are directed by the American Medical Association's Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse.

"Binge drinking by young people is a major public health problem that we can no longer ignore."
— Nancy W. Dickey, MD
Past President, American Medical Association

*From students interviewed in the 1993 Harvard School of Public Health national survey of college drinkers.