Wednesday, October 1, 2003
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Study Finds Stricter Alcohol Policy Enforcement at Colleges May Lower Heavy Drinking Among Students
BOSTON - In an article published in the October issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Dr. John Knight and researchers from the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Children's Hospital Boston, concluded that stricter enforcement of college's alcohol policies tended to be associated with lower rates of heavy drinking by students. The study consisted of 11 public schools, including three state university campuses and eight state colleges that fall under the purview of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (MBHE). In each of the 11 schools, the dean of students, chief of campus security, and a representative sample of students completed surveys about their campus' alcohol policy enforcement and implementation.
Thousands of Massachusetts college students returned to campus this month, and while many students live healthy college lifestyles, many others struggle with the pressures and consequences of heavy alcohol consumption, including preventable deaths. In 1997, following the tragic deaths of two Massachusetts students, the MBHE placed restrictions on drinking at all state colleges and university campuses, and required colleges to periodically report compliance. The new restrictions enacted by the MBHE included the following elements: (1) Restricting alcohol to specific, supervised locations; (2) Requiring advance registration of social events involving alcohol; (3) Restricting legal possession of alcohol to separate residence halls for students age 21 or older; (4) Providing alcohol education and prevention programs; (5) Establishing procedures for enforcement of all federal, state, local and campus regulations; (6) Requiring that colleges work with neighboring cities and towns to enforce alcohol laws; (7) New sanctions on student violators, up to and including expulsion from college; and (8) Parental notification of all alcohol policy violations by underage students.
The study found that, despite a uniform statewide policy, there was a substantial degree of variation among colleges in the degree to which these rules were enforced. It also was evident that rates of heavy drinking varied greatly among the schools. Researchers explained that some of this variation may be attributed to the student's demographic composition or the percentage of students living on campus, but the drinking rates also were associated with the variation in alcohol policy enforcement mentioned above.
The study specifically found that activities of campus security officers to limit alcohol possession and use on campus were related to student drinking rates. Campus security officers are likely to interact directly with student drinking while enforcing alcohol policies, and their reports of stricter alcohol policy enforcement were associated with lower levels of heavy drinking.
''It was interesting to see how students viewed their school's enforcement of alcohol policies,'' said Dr. John Knight, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Research at Children's Hospital Boston. ''It is clear that many of the colleges should review their alcohol control policies, consider greater enforcement, and provide more training and support to the officials dealing first-hand with enforcement.''
Knight and his colleagues were able to make a number of conclusions based on the results of their research, and they feel that although their study was observational, it does suggest a link between strict enforcement of alcohol policies and lower rates of underage drinking. The team plans to conduct a 2-year follow-up investigation into the effects of policy enforcement and student drinking.
The study was funded by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. SAPRP funds policy research studies in alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
Founded in 1869 as a 20-bed hospital for children, today Children's Hospital Boston is a 300-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex needs and diversity of children and families. Children's Hospital Boston is the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, home to the world's leading pediatric research enterprise, and the largest provider of health care to the children of Massachusetts. For more information about the hospital visit: www.childrenshospital.org.