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Press Coverage(2002)

December 2002
"Sociological Approaches Hold Promise to Curb Campus Drinking"
By Kerry J. Strand, Hood College, Footnotes, a publication of the American Sociological Association

[An excerpt is provided below; to view the full text, click on the title of the article.]

"Not surprisingly, sociologists have contributed in important ways to the large body of research as well as to public discussions about college drinking. Three of the most well-known are Henry Wechsler, director of College Alcohol Studies at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead researcher of their college alcohol study; H. Wesley Perkins at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, one of the developers of the widely-touted “social norms campaign” approach to reducing excessive drinking on campuses; and David Hanson, who hosts an award-winning website called Alcohol: problems and solutions ( at the State University of New York-Potsdam, where he is a faculty member."

"While Wechsler and his Harvard colleagues suggest that binge drinking is a huge and worsening problem on campuses, others disagree. Perkins emphasizes that the harmful consequences associated with heavy drinking are not occurring for the majority of students in most contexts. Hanson goes further and argues that alarmist estimates of underage and binge drinking on college campuses are just that—alarmist—and that both underage and heavy drinking have steadily declined. He and others suggest that some of the problem has to do with definition and measurement issues, particularly the definition of “binge drinking.”

November 8, 2002
Binge Thinking: Henry Wechsler Has Defined the Student-Drinking Problem, for Better or Worse
By Eric Hoover, The Chronicle of Higher Education

This profile of Henry Wechsler, director of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study (CAS), includes a brief examination of the controversy surrounding the use by the CAS of the term "binge drinking" and the 5/4 measure, as well as a discussion of social norms.

All in all a very human portrait of "the soft-spoken Mr. Wechsler [who] is hard to picture as such a polarizing figure in his field," and who "did his first social drinking in high school, 'a few beers' with friends." Information is also provided about the extent of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funding to the CAS: "About $5.5 million has gone to the project itself since 1992, with an additional $1-million for marketing, part of which Mr. Wechsler has used to contract with Burness Communications, a Maryland firm that handles much of his public-relations work."

November, 2002
NCAA Division III Pilot STARR Social Norms Campaign
The Peer Educator, pp 11 & 13, Vol 25, No. 4

September 27, 2002
Social Norms 101: Perkins Advocates Focusing on the Positive
by Ed Forbes, ppA1 & A16, The Adirondack Daily Enterprise

August 28, 2002
ECSU (Eastern Connecticut State University) Gets Grant to Fight Alcohol Abuse
by Grace Merritt, pB4, The Herald Courant

July, 2002
Which Alcohol Policies Work? Efforts to Curb Campus-Drinking Excesses Have Stagnated
by Gwendolyn Jordan Dungy, Research that Matters

June 18, 2002
Making Alcohol 'Uncool' Key to Educating Teens
by Rick Foster, The Sun Chronicle

May 28, 2002
Social Norming May Be Strategy for Good Behavior
By Karen Thomas, USA Today

"The widespread impression that the norm for today's young people is drunken debauchery simply isn't true. Most kids are OK. It's the best-kept secret on college campuses, and a growing number of experts believe that keeping all this good news quiet is doing far more harm than good."

Prominent mention is made of the social norm campaigns at the universities of Arizona, North Carolina, and Wisconsin-Oshkosh, as well as throughout the 23-campus California State University System. The successful intervention at the DeKalb and Sycamore (IL) high schools is also noted.

May 9, 2002
Wanted: A More Positive Approach to Preventing Binge-Drinking
by N. Zeke Campfield, The Badger Herald (University of Wisconsin)

April 12, 2002
College Drinking Study Is Intoxicating Scam
By Steven Milloy, Fox News

"This week's news about excessive college drinking is another shocking example of statistical deception by shameless activists manipulating a media panting for sensationalism."

April 11, 2002
Everybody Isn't Doing It
By Alexander Conant, The Badger Herald Tribune

"This week's report is not the first to recommend so-called social norm marketing. Social norm campaigns operate on the logical premise that misconceptions and reality are highly correlated…Such campaigns are cheap, effective and honest-unlike some of the ongoing scare tactics."

April 11, 2002
Ways to Curb College Binges
Christian Science Monitor, Editorial

"Campus advertising campaigns that emphasize the fact that most students, 60 percent, either don't drink or drink moderately have proven effective. Colleges have to dispel the notion that heavy drinking is the norm."

April 9, 2002
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): Task Force Report on College Drinking

On April 9, 2002, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) issued its Task Force Report on College Drinking. In its section of the final report, the Panel on Prevention and Treatment noted that "several institutions that persistently communicated accurate norms have experienced reductions of up to 20 percent in high-risk drinking over a relatively short period of time. Together these findings provide strong support for the potential impact of the social norms approach."

In addition, social norms is among the so-called Tier 1 strategies recommended because of its proven effectiveness. "Norms or value clarification," it points out, "examines students' perceptions about the acceptability of abusive drinking behavior on campus and uses data to refute beliefs about the tolerance for this behavior as well as beliefs about the number of students who drink excessively and the amounts of alcohol they consume."

Significantly, one of the scientific papers commissioned by the NIAAA Task Force and published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol (Supplement No. 14, March 2002) deals specifically with social norms:

Social Norms and the Prevention of Alcohol Misuse in College Contexts
By Dr. H. Wesley Perkins

This article provides a review of conceptual and empirical studies on the role of social norms in college student alcohol use and in prevention strategies to counter misuse. The normative influences of various constituencies serving as reference groups for students are examined as possible factors influencing students' drinking behavior.

Although the Task Force's own news release acknowledges that "previous studies have shown that most students drink moderately or abstain," most coverage of the report has focused on several of its estimates--derived "by integrating a number of national databases"--of the negative consequences experienced by college students when they drink.

Below you will find a number of items (presented in chronological order) that have appeared in the national and regional press regarding the NIAAA report.

April 9, 2002
Boos for Booze
Wall Street Journal, Editorial

"Stop the presses…'Though common on many campuses, alcohol abuse does not run rampant among all college and university students,' declares an NIH press release, which goes on to explain (really) that heavy drinkers drink the most."

April 4, 2002
Is the College Binge Drinking Problem Overstated?
By Laura Vanderkam, USA Today

Questions the value of the so-called 5/4 binge drinking measure as "a completely arbitrary standard chosen more for headlines than meaning."

January 28, 2002
Alcohol-use "Factoids" May Appear on Campus Computer Screens
By Lydia Hallay, Arizona Daily Wildcat (University of Arizona)