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Headed to College? What You Should Know about Greek Life and Alcohol

Teen alcohol abuse

From Animal House to Neighbors, college fraternities and sororities have been portrayed on the movie screen as organizations which promote perpetual, free-flowing alcohol consumption with little regard for their own members’ health or the well-being of others. While this picture of Greek life is not always accurate, there is a good reason why the stereotype has persisted for so long.

Greek Students Drink More In (and After) College

The idea that fraternity and sorority members drink more alcohol than their non-Greek counterparts has been reinforced by scientific studies. An article published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine reveals that members of Greek organizations consume alcohol 19 percent more frequently than those students who are not in a fraternity or sorority. Moreover, the researchers from Syracuse University’s Center for Health and Behavior found that these students engage in binge drinking 61 percent more often than their classmates without a Greek affiliation. 

What many students and parents may not be aware of is the propensity for fraternity and sorority members to continue their heavy alcohol consumption long after they have left college. A University of Michigan study that was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that almost half of men who spent at least one semester living in a fraternity residence had significantly higher rates of binge drinking by age 35 than both non-Greek students and their peers who never attended college (45 percent vs. 32.7 percent). 

A History of Hazing

Not only can substantial alcohol use in college result in missed classes, hangovers, and risky sexual behaviors, but it can also be fatal. Hazing by Greek organizations (which often involves booze) has been blamed for deaths of students at Florida State, Texas State, Penn State, and LSU in the past year. Though it doesn’t happen often, an Indiana University professor who studies hazing reports that at least one person has died due to hazing on a U.S. college campus each year since 1961.

Greek Students Resist Interventions

Given the length of time that alcohol abuse has persisted among fraternities and sororities on American campuses, you would think that there would be intervention initiatives that are focused on combatting this problem. Unfortunately, it appears that such programs are not very effective in dissuading Greek students from drinking.

A meta-study conducted by Brown University researchers examined 15 studies conducted over two decades that involved peer-administered intervention programs which targeted members of Greek organizations. The Brown study, the results of which were published in the journal Health Psychology, revealed that these efforts had “limited effectiveness in reducing alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems” among fraternity members – and in some cases even showed increased alcohol consumption among the participants.

Teen alcohol abuse

Advice for Parents and New Students

So does this mean that college students should avoid fraternities and sororities entirely? Not necessarily.

To be sure, plenty of non-Greek college students abuse alcohol regularly. Fraternity and sorority life can offer significant benefits such as service opportunities, lifelong friendships, and a network of alumni that can help graduates find employment.

Basically, if a student is mature enough to drink moderately and/or choose to remain sober in certain situations (like if he or she has an exam the next day or is the designated driver), then he or she will probably experience the advantages of Greek life without most of the drawbacks associated with alcohol use. In addition, many campuses offer dry student organizations and collegiate recovery programs for students who have struggled with alcohol dependence in the past.

Substance abuse and Greek life can be found at almost every college or university campus. But if students maintain the right attitude and take the relevant precautions, they can still have fun in a sorority or fraternity while also fulfilling their academic requirements.

If you are the parent of a college student who is struggling with alcohol abuse, contact us for information on how to get help.

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