Binge Drinking and the Universities

In 2001, college drinking was associated with approximately 600,000 injuries, almost 500,000 instances of unprotected sex, 97,000 sexual assaults, 700,000 physical assaults, and over 1,700 deaths (White & Hingson, 2014). Furthermore, these statistics are increased for those affiliated with the Greek system. With approximately, nine million students currently members of a sorority or fraternity in the U.S (Glass, 2012), there is an urgency to unearth what characteristics of Greek societies cause it to be the strongest risk factor for substance abuse among college students.

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Conceivably, by identifying these characteristics measures for this epidemic can be implemented in Greek systems throughout college campuses. In relation to social psychology, I will authenticate that it is not one element, instead conformity, residential environment, injunctive norms and descriptive norms amalgamating to create a scenario in which college students are more inclined to participate in binge drinking.

Underlying Causes

Conformity, or the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms and attitude expression has a great relevance to alcohol consumption in college students. The influence of others’ views on individual attitudes was examined in a study. (Levitan and Verhulst 2015). In an initial study, naive participants were asked about their attitudes on a range of standard survey items privately, publicly in a group with confederates, and again privately following the group meeting. Findings indicate significant attitudinal conformity, which was most pronounced when participants were faced with a unanimous group. Conformity continued to influence participants’ views when they were again asked their views in private.

Considering the significance conformity has on adolescents, its magnitude was later researched in relation to binge drinking (Ferrer, Dillard, and Klein). In the fall of 2009, 800 first year college students from a midwestern state university participated in a mailed questionnaire regarding alcohol experiences; this questionnaire included questions on attitudes, alcohol consumption behaviour, injunctive and descriptive norms and experiences of alcohol-related problems. Both conformity and projection was found with respect to alcohol attitudes and behaviour for first year college students.

As adolescents, most of their sense of self is derived from the opinions of others. Though this is not the most authentic way to measure self worth, it is how the youth grasp the world around them. However, when drinking is the consequence of conformity the outcomes can be disastrous. If something as insignificant as a stranger’s opinion on items can sway behavior, conformity will have an even greater weight on an incoming freshman searching for potential friends for the upcoming four years. In an already stress inducing time as freshman year, new students will not jeopardize their status in fraternities or sororities by not participating in the activities of their peers. The power of conformity clouds the judgment of students making them more susceptible to binge drinking.

The environment and living conditions of greek systems have been proven to directly affect the alcohol consumption of its members. In a study done by Park, Sher, and Krull they sought out to see how on-campus living in a greek residence affects risky drinking in adolescents. They hypothesized those who lived in fraternity houses would be more likely to participate in risky drinking. They measured this by a paper-and-pencil questionnaire for first-time first-year students at a Midwestern university. The sample of participants then took part in a web-based survey every fall and spring for the next four years. The final sample consisted of non-Greek women in residence halls, Greek women in residence halls, non-Greek men in residence halls, and Greek men in fraternity houses. They concluded that, students engaged in having five or more drinks in a single sitting roughly once and in having 12 or more drinks in a single sitting less than once for the past month at precollege. As well as, those living in fraternity houses increased extremely risky drinking more than others. These findings demonstrate both general effects of living types and specific effects of living units in the association between living environments and risky drinking during the college transition.

The transition from home to on-campus living creates a surge of independence for college students. However, with that independence comes a certain amount of freedom to indulgences that has not yet been presented to adolescents. There are no longer any authority figures hovering over them to chastise them for any diminutive action. This freedom is only magnified in greek houses because they are not held as responsible as students living in dorms within the school. Thus, alcohol and drug use can be executed without the close monitor of room advisors and staff. Coupled this with the already implied party atmosphere calls for a hectic living environment that allows binge drinking to occur with no repercussions.

By having your peers and everyone around you participate in drinking, it is easy to believe that is what everyone does in college. Injunctive norms, which are described as individuals’ perceptions of others’ attitudes and descriptive norms which are typical patterns of behavior, generally accompanied by the expectation that people will behave according to the pattern. – can exert a strong influence on behaviour. Through findings it has been determined that norm perceptions are often robustly associated with alcohol consumption. This can be related to conformity because conformity occurs when perceptions of injunctive and descriptive norms influence an individual’s own attitudes and behaviour (Asch, 1951). Although conformity was found with respect to alcohol attitudes and behaviour for first year college students, after the first year there was no evidence of projection or conformity. In the study previously mentioned (Ferrer, Dillard, and Klein), the persistence of drinking after freshman year was examined. From the mailed questionnaire, there was evidence of injunctive and descriptive norms affecting drinking. Almost all students who were not freshman disclosed that individual viewing others’ drinking behaviour related it to their own drinking behavior. Therefore, they view their own drinking behaviour as being in line with the norm.This deviation from conformity supports the theory of action and identity, in which adolescents create identities by diverging from their peers. This evidence is in conjunction with deviance regulation theory or DRT that posits that people choose to stray from social norms in socially attractive ways as well as avoiding socially unattractive behaviors that stray from social norms. These behaviors are performed in an effort to preserve a constructive private and public self-image.

Even when conformity and on campus living are not present, drinking in greek life still persists, this can be explained by injunctive and descriptive norms. The association between attitudes and behaviour and injunctive/descriptive norms shifted dramatically after the first year of college, precisely that time when many students are moving from fitting in socially to establishing a unique identity relative to others (Munro & Adams, 1977). Students are no longer seeking the approval of others, instead behaving in ways they believe they have been displaying. For people in fraternities and sororities who have been participating in risky drinking as far back as before freshman year, it is easy to presume that is their personal norm. Through cognitive dissonance if they have behaved that way for so long it must be a reflection of their true character. Because not all of the factors are applicable to every year of college, ultimately, it is a combination of all three components that promote binge drinking in the greek lifestyle.

Solutions:

Given the risk factors examined, universities have an obligation to address the binge drinking crisis in greek life. Park, Sherr, and Krull examined how risky drinking changes as Fraternity/Sorority affiliation Changes. They found significant importance of long-term versus short-term substance use with Greek affiliation. Compelling rates of heavy drinking and marijuana use decreased over 4 years of college for students who dropped out of Greek systems and increased for students who joined Greek systems in their later college careers. Similarly, alcohol consumption decreased when the sorority or fraternity did not have a greek house, because the alcohol and drugs itself was not as accessible. Therefore, the greek system should be repealed, however, considering the numerous amounts of sororities and fraternities this is highly unlikely. At the very least, there should be more severe regulations in greek houses to make alcohol less available. A number of colleges have already implemented measures to decrease the prevalence of risky drinking. This includes screenings to identify binge drinkers, brief interventions, and referral to further treatments. Any precaution to decrease binge drinking in the greek system is a step in the right direction.

In light of all the studies regarding binge drinking in the greek system it is discernible to conclude that it is not created by any one factor. Instead, it is a combination of conformity, social environments, and norms that produces an atmosphere in which adolescents choose to participate in binge drinking. Considering this conclusion, it is the responsibilities of the universities to regulate their greek system accordingly.

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