MADISON – University of Wisconsin System campuses intend to use the findings from a survey on alcohol and drug abuse among undergraduates to better understand student behaviors in Wisconsin, and to determine what the university can do to improve prevention efforts, experts said.
“Encouraging healthy behaviors by college students in Wisconsin, particularly when it comes to alcohol, will take attention at all levels,” said UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Linda Bunnell, chair of a systemwide Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) committee. “This is not just a university challenge – it’s a Wisconsin challenge.”
Findings from the comprehensive survey, conducted in Spring 2005, were presented today (Nov. 10) to the Board of Regents, which had requested an assessment of alcohol and other drug abuse, and prevention efforts, within the UW System.
Larry Rubin, UW System assistant vice president for academic and student services, who helped develop the survey, said the findings will provide the UW System with baseline measures about student behaviors against which future UW data can be compared. Rubin said the findings also serve as a benchmark for comparing levels of alcohol and drug abuse among students in Wisconsin with students in other states.
“In general, the patterns of alcohol use among UW students we see in this survey are similar to what we see in surveys of other colleges and universities, but the rates of binge drinking are higher in Wisconsin than the national average,” Rubin said.
Rubin said the survey found student behaviors to be widely varied. While 20 percent of student respondents said they had abstained from drinking alcohol in the past month, 59 percent of all respondents said they had engaged in binge drinking at least once in the past two weeks.
For purposes of the study, binge drinking was defined for men and women as consuming five or more drinks in one sitting. National studies have estimated that, overall, 44 percent of college students report similar behaviors.
Regents also heard from two of the UW System’s campus AODA representatives, who shared perspectives on how the university can reduce high-risk drinking behavior among students.
Susan Crowley, who leads UW-Madison’s Policy, Alternatives, Community, Education (PACE) program, shared with Regents some of the environmental approaches UW-Madison is using to reduce student alcohol abuse. These include asking Madison’s Alcohol License Review Committee to adopt a set of best practices for bars and taverns, a new parental notification policy for students who engage in dangerous drinking, and the university’s publication of a safe house-party guide.
“Environmental approaches to curb binge drinking utilize policy interventions to create an alcohol environment that promotes safe, healthy behavior,” Crowley said.
Regents also heard from Amy Margulies, the AODA coordinator at UW-Whitewater, who outlined some of the campus’s alcohol-abuse prevention and intervention programs. These initiatives include establishing groups like the Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition, and developing a media campaign to inform students about alcohol and other drug use policies and consequences.
“Currently, our campuses have in place a number of promising practices we can use to educate students about the potential harms that result from high-risk use of alcohol and other drugs,” she said, highlighting marketing campaigns and increased publicity designed to correct student misperceptions about alcohol and drug use on campus.
The UW System Alcohol and Other Drug Use Survey was conducted online during the Spring 2005 semester at UW System campuses to find trends in alcohol and drug use, student perceptions of use, and consequences of use. More than 12,000 students selected from a random sample chose to participate in the voluntary survey.
Students were assured anonymity, and received an instant analysis of the impacts of their own alcohol use, including an estimate of their average peak blood-alcohol concentration, and how their level of use compares to students nationally.