Drinking is just a part of the culture for many college athletes. The result is hung-over students who fail to train and compete at their best. To address the problem of alcohol abuse among student-athletes, many college campuses are educating students about social normsthe beliefs about what is normal and expected in social situations. For example, despite popular belief, everyone does not drink nor do most students get drunk all the time.
A 1999 survey at Southern Methodist University asked these four questions to students on a Friday about alcohol use on the previous night:
Did you drink last night?
Did you get drunk last night?
What percentage of SMU students do you think drank last night?
What percentage of SMU students do you think got drunk last night?
The answers showed major misperceptions about alcohol norms:
-Only 20% of students surveyed reported drinking the previous night, yet they believed that over half drank.
-Only 8% reported getting drunk, yet they believed at least one-third got drunk.
-Of students who drank, most reported consuming only a few drinks per week. Yet they believed most students were drinking 10 to 15 drinks per week.
-35% reported abstaining from alcohol, but very few believed that many of their peers were non-drinkers.
With ongoing social norm education, students will actually change their drinking practices. For example, a three-year social-norm education program targeted Division III athletes in a NY State college. It contributed to a 30% drop in both excessive alcohol consumption and the negative consequences of drinking. Among student-athletes with the highest exposure to the program, personal alcohol misuse dropped 50%. (1) Given that athletes are often role models, this change can have a positive impact on the entire campus and potentially (eventually) our entire sports society.
The bottom line: You can abstain from alcohol and not be the only one who does so!
Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD
1. Perkins H and Crais D. 2006. A Successful Social Norms Campaign to Rreduce Alcohol Misuse Among Collge Student-Athlets. J. Stud Alcohol 67:880-889.