Study: College Students Don’t Think Binge Drinking Is a Problem

Published: October 21, 2010

ARLINGTON, Va. — New research regarding binge drinking behaviors of college drinkers and how communications campaigns might be used to reduce overconsumption of alcohol by students was presented by the Ad Council and Egg Strategy at the U.S. Department of Education’s National Meeting on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention in Higher Education. Commissioned by The Century Council under contract with the Ad Council, the research was conducted by the independent consulting firm Egg Strategy.

Among the findings, the research exposed different types of college drinkers for the first time; took an in-depth look at the “type and tone” of messages that would cause a reconsideration of behavior; and examined media use as a channel for change.

“This research is a critical step in the ongoing fight to reduce overconsumption on college campuses,” said Richard Band, director of Strategy and Innovation, Egg Strategy. “By recognizing and respecting the individual voices of the students, we begin to understand how best to target messaging to reduce dangerous overconsumption among college students.”

Among the key insights brought to light by students are:

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  • The term binge drinking is not relevant to students nor do they “buy into” the commonly used five drink/four drink definition;
  • Communications campaigns should highlight the feelings of overconsumption, not the math. Students don’t count standard drinks;
  • Peer-based messaging works only if it’s really about a student’s peers, rather than an assortment of students from around campus;
  • In general, scare tactics are not effective at connecting with students and are less likely to inspire behavior change;
  • Messages that influence the situational factors surrounding a night of drinking are more readily accepted than those that overtly seek reductions in consumption.

“The research presented by the Ad Council demonstrates that students don’t recognize binge drinking as a problem.” said The Century Council Chairman Susan Molinari. “What’s more, students want to be spoken to with respect, understanding, caring, encouragement, and authenticity. Who can blame them? These findings provide a valuable opportunity to all of us to review and reinvigorate current binge drinking programs at every level.”

The study found that messages should be delivered when the students are not drinking through campus newspapers, online media, and take a further step of harnessing the collective “approval” of social networking to validate and endorse positive behavior. It also identified other opportunities to deliver related messaging.

“The research released today will be extremely useful to campuses dealing with overconsumption of alcohol by students — many of whom arrive with drinking habits firmly established,” said American Council on Education President Molly Corbett Broad. “Whether you are persuaded by either societal norms or enforcement philosophy when approaching this complex problem, a ‘one size fits all’ model will not be enough. I urge college presidents and student affairs professionals to review this important research to see how it might be used to improve alcohol awareness programs on their own campus.”

The Ad Council/Egg Strategy presentation can be downloaded on our Fighting College Binge Drinking page. It will also be available in the next few days on the Higher Ed National Meeting’s Web site.

In addition to the release of this research at the Higher Ed National Meeting, The Century Council hosted a briefing for Congressional Staff earlier today to educate attendees on this important topic. To learn more about this comprehensive, multi-faceted research effort, visit the “Fighting College Binge Drinking” section of our Web site, which is designed to provide a better understanding of this issue from the perspective of different members of the campus community.

The Century Council Oct. 19, 2010 press release


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Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series