Alcohol interventions are not reaching Greek college culture


College fraternities and binge drinking have gone hand-in-hand for decades. In spite of treatment professionals’ best efforts, alcohol interventions have largely failed to curb excessive alcohol consumption in Greek culture. There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight to this destructive relationship.  

Binge drinking in Greek culture

In 2000, Harvard School of Health published a study on binge drinking on college campuses. About 40 percent of students in Greek societies admitted to frequent binge drinking compared to 20 percent of non-Greeks. Nearly 40 percent of non-Greeks identified as nonbinge drinkers, while only 28 percent of Greeks identified as non-bingers. The study found an abstinence rate of 20 percent among non-Greeks. Among Greeks, abstainers constituted less than 10 percent of the population.

Drinking is part of fraternity and sorority life. An article published in the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Journal notes despite efforts from college officials to discourage alcohol abuse in fraternities, Greek culture continues to equate excessive drinking with bonding and solidarity. The report states that “the cultures of most groups encourage, and their members practice, irresponsible drinking. Too often, works addressing Greeks and their undergraduate experience mention issues related to alcohol use but rarely go beyond repeating calls for local chapter reform and increased emphasis on responsible use of alcohol, alcohol education programs, and the like.”

Alcohol’s use in hazing

The University of Maine published a 2008 study on hazing. Noting how intertwined drinking and Greek culture are, study authors posed questions peculiar to hazing rituals involving alcohol. The study found that over 50 percent of rituals involved drinking games. Over 25 percent of the rituals involved consuming enough alcohol to cause vomiting or unconsciousness.

The Maine study makes clear hazing is not confined to Greeks. The authors note that of the 11,000 students involved in the study, 47 said they experienced hazing in high school. Hazing permeates athletics, service organizations, marching bands and campus clubs. But unlike these organizations, Greek culture permeates the fraternity member’s entire existence.  

The reason why interventions don’t work

As of the 2014-2015 academic year, there were over 380,000 undergrad fraternity members nationwide. The average age for a college freshman is 18. Fraternities are organizations that provide immediate camaraderie, support, inclusiveness and identity. For an impressionable 18-year old leaving home for the first time, college can be overwhelming. Greek life provides social and fraternal infrastructure.

A systematic review of alcohol interventions conducted at fraternities and sororities between 1987 and 2014 found the main reason interventions don’t work is that fraternity members simply want to drink. The study found limited interventions show some success. Greeks would cut out drinking on specific days, but in the whole, the overall drinking culture was unaffected. The authors note Greek culture is conformist, from hazing to dress code to mandatory activities. A young man who pledges a fraternity that embraces drinking either drinks or is left out.  

White River Academy educations and provides behavioral health counseling to young men age 12 to 17. Our curriculum has been certified by the Utah Department of Education as being comparable to middle and high school curricula in the state. Where we surpass public schools is in our class size. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average high school class contains 25 students. We limit our classes to 10 students, which means greater one-to-one time for the teacher and student. Take a virtual tour of our campus to find out more about our academics and our treatment programs.

About the author:

Darren Fraser is a content writer. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. 

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