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AODA Survey Shows Improving Results

By Jenna Campbell
UW-RF University Communications

DEC. 16, 2005--The phrase "thirsty Thursdays" has been ingrained into many college students' minds since the fall of their freshman year. Such stereotypes of certain weekdays spawning habitual binge-drinking episodes have been linked to college campuses for several decades.

At the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, while alcohol abuse is always a concern, students are drinking at a lesser rate than the national average. Even more so, there is less drinking going on than students believe is occurring.

UW-RF recently took a deeper look into the consumption of alcohol by students by using the UW System Alcohol and Other Drug Use Survey, which was conducted in March 2005. The survey was sent to 4,634 undergraduate students with 1,176 returned for a response rate of 25.4 percent. The margin of error is 3 percent.

Explaining the campus's intervention on alcohol abuse, Keven Syverson, the campus health education coordinator, says UW-RF aggressively began an education campaign several years ago.

"We're not saying that drinking isn't going to happen, but we would like to address this issue as a community," says Syverson.

UW-RF students reported less alcohol use then their peers, with 28 percent of UW-RF students abstaining during the past 30 days--some eight percent more that across the system.

The survey also revealed in the previous two weeks that 50 percent of UW-RF students had at least five drinks in one sitting, which is slightly lower than the national average of 54 percent. University health officials define imbibing five or more drinks in one sitting as binge drinking.

The UW System Alcohol and Other Drug Use Survey destroyed another typical assumption about college students' drinking habits. A majority--54 percent--reported they were drinking at the same level or even less than when they first arrived on campus.

A campus and community coalition comprised of representatives from the campus, school district, police department and city government, hopes to reduce the rate of binge drinking from 50 percent to 46.5 within the next two years. The University Coalition on Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs hopes to achieve that by educating and creating awareness among students   about the consequences of irresponsible alcohol consumption.

Education begins as soon as students arrive on campus, with letters sent in the summer to all incoming students and parents about alcohol policies and expectations.    For the past three years UW-RF has been simulating house parties to apprise students of what they can anticipate if they visit a private location serving alcohol. The sessions are complete with vignettes to give freshmen an idea of what to expect and how to react when confronted with different situations in which they are encouraged to drink or binge drink. These vignettes are also used to educate about the resources that are available to them if they are encouraged to binge drink.

UW-RF also conducts training for juniors and seniors athletes living off-campus on how to be a responsible host for a party. Students receive brochures that offer suggestions on how to make house parties safer. Athletes are given an interactive workbook called "CHOICES" that provide reflections, facts, risks, strategies and choices.

The objective is to help students think through their actions so as to make mature decisions about their drinking behavior. "We meet with athletes to address how alcohol impacts their performance and team cohesiveness," says Syverson.

UW-RF also sends a 21st birthday cards to all students, with an incentive of encouraging a safe birthday, to counteract the national trend of students binge-drinking on that date.

According to Syverson, UW-RF is continually working with faculty and staff to address how alcohol abuse affects students' academic performance. In 2004, faculty reported that 60 percent have been personally aware of a student whose academic performance has been affected by alcohol or other drug use. The goal is to keep faculty and staff educated about services and resources. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 19-to-1, Syverson says the campus hopes to capitalize on that close-knit relationship to have faculty intervene quickly if they see a problem developing.

UW-RF also implements a social norm campaign. This campaign aims to break through students' perceptions of how much drinking is occurring by sharing the reality of what's really happening. For example, posters around campus show that while students think that 99 percent of students have used alcohol in the past 30 days, the actual figure is that 72 percent of students have used alcohol in the past 30 days.

"We really wanted to show the misperceptions--that the extent of drinking is overestimated," says Syverson.

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Last updated: Thursday, 22-Apr-2010 16:06:53 Central Daylight Time

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