Alcohol Interventions Don't Stop Fraternity Drinking Culture, Study Finds

By May Wilkerson 05/25/16

Researchers believe that if schools educate students about the effects of alcohol as a drug they could save lives.

Alcohol Interventions Don't Stop Fraternity Drinking Culture, Study Finds

Once a frat bro, always a frat bro? When it comes to alcohol intake, members of college fraternities are unlikely to change their behavior, even with intervention, a new study suggests. The findings, published last week in the journal Health Psychology, showed that even tried-and-true methods of decreasing alcohol abuse were not effective on members of the Greek organizations.

Study lead Lori Scott-Sheldon, an associate professor at the Brown University Medical School, told NBC News that it was a surprise, but that "it may just be more challenging to act on your intentions if the environment endorses alcohol use." Researchers like Scott-Sheldon are concerned about fraternities' celebration of excessive drinking—depicted in movies like Animal House and Neighbors—because it can lead to potentially fatal alcohol poisonings and accidents, like the recent death of 18-year-old Nicholas Holt, a freshman at Stony Brook University, who died from alcohol poisoning after a frat party.

The new study examined data collected from 15 smaller studies, which looked at the success rates of 21 different alcohol interventions on fraternity members. The interventions involved education about alcohol, personalized feedback on alcohol use and strategies to reduce drinking, explained Scott-Sheldon. She added that, though there was some data collected on sororities, these numbers were too small "for them to be generalizable.”

Though these interventions showed little impact on fraternity members, the researchers say the situation isn't hopeless, and that involving Greek leaders in policies could lead to more effective interventions. 

There are some schools that have found some success in reducing alcohol abuse on campus, like the University of Pennsylvania, which included members of fraternities and sororities in developing their alcohol policies. Developing a successful alcohol policy can be as simple as educating students about the dangers of excessive drinking, said Dr. Charles O'Brien, a psychiatry professor and the founding director of the Center for the Studies of Addiction at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Basically kids can be very smart, but ignorant about alcohol as a drug," O'Brien told NBC News. "It's really ridiculous. Officials say, 'alcohol and drugs.' Alcohol is a drug just as much as cocaine. I can rattle off a list of students who died from an alcohol overdose, or even worse, who killed other people with their cars."

O’Brien said this new study is promising, as developing better policies could ultimately save lives. "This kind of science is needed," he said. "Clearly we have to make an effort. So many students are dying and not just overdoses, but from falling out of windows and from auto accidents."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.