Student drinking tops national average

Yale students drink more than the average for college students nationwide, Yale College Dean’s Office surveys have found.

As part of its participation in the National College Health Improvement Project, a consortium of 32 colleges working to reduce high-risk drinking on their campuses, the University began conducting an ongoing survey of student drinking habits in fall 2011. Findings from the 2011–’12 year reveal that Yale’s overall alcohol consumption rate is higher than the national average and that fewer Yale students reported taking risk-reducing steps, such as eating before drinking, than at other universities. Though the University shared a summary of last year’s survey conclusions with students who attended a series of dinners this month designed to foster communication between students and administrators on alcohol issues, Yale has not yet decided how to use the findings.

“The modern student seems to be different [in drinking habits] than students have been in the past,” said Hannah Peck DIV ’11, a YCDO fellow who led the discussion dinners. “Schools are now dealing with things they have never seen before.”

The survey also found that the majority of drinking at Yale takes place in dorm rooms, particularly during “pre-games,” and that the percentage of students who have three or more drinks in one hour decreases by class year. In addition, frequent binge drinking — defined as consuming five drinks in one sitting for men and four for women — was found to be more prevalent among seniors, despite the common perception that students drink more responsibly as they get older. Peck declined to provide specific statistics from the survey.

Past studies of alcohol culture at colleges across the United States have shown similar results in regard to changes in drinking habits as students age, said Toben Nelson, associate director of the College Alcohol Study, a group at the Harvard School of Public Health that conducts national surveys on college students’ alcohol consumption. He added that other research projects have also found that the perception that older students drink more responsibly is false, but he said there has not been substantive past research on pre-gaming.

“Pre-gaming is more of a recent phenomenon [that] researchers have just [begun] paying attention to this year, so there’s a lot left to be learned about the kind of drinking going on in those settings and the potential for preventing drinking in that setting,” Nelson said.

Yale’s anonymous online survey was sent to all sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduates of the class of 2012 by the end of the 2011–’12 academic year, Peck said, and 2,664 students — roughly 51 percent of the undergraduate body — completed the survey. The demographics of survey respondents accurately reflect those of the greater student body, said Rebecca Friedkin, acting director of the Office of Institutional Research.

“The distribution of respondents by self-reported gender, class year and residential college mirrors the actual distribution of students along these variables, increasing confidence in the validity of the survey results,” Friedkin said.

The surveys were initiated as part of Yale’s participation in NCHIP’s Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking — a two-year effort to collect data on current high-risk drinking habits in college students and the success of various efforts to reduce this trend, Peck said. The Collaborative’s data-collection process will end in July 2013, culminating in a conference at which the findings will be publicly released and discussed, said Amy Olsen, a spokeswoman at Dartmouth, where NCHIP is located.

Fifteen of 21 students interviewed said they are not surprised by the survey’s findings. Still, seven students said they are surprised that Yale’s drinking rate is higher than the national average, and five said they are surprised that fewer Yale students took steps to reduce the risk of drinking.

Romary Santana ’15 said she expected Yale’s drinking rate to be lower than the national average because of the stereotype that Ivy League students are less likely to drink.

“[The findings] surprised me because I don’t really consider Yale a party school as compared to a state school,” Santana said.

Two additional waves of surveys have been sent to students this fall, and two more will follow in the spring.

Correction: Dec. 12

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Dean of Student Affairs W. Marichal Gentry did not respond to request for comment. In fact, Gentry was never contacted. 

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