We often hear from prevention experts who want to know what is considered best practice and what leading institutions across the country are doing to address high-risk drinking. We often say to prevention experts that what works at one institution may not work for your institution. To highlight this point, I want to share an example that was just published in the journal Substance Abuse Treatment.
The authors highlight that “the drinking environment, including the policy environment, has been shown to directly influence alcohol use by college students. As such, differences in the environment across college campuses may support differing programmatic needs.” It highlights the importance of taking into account unique contexts of alcohol use at different college campuses.
The authors of the study were attempting to replicate a prior study that was carried out at a single institution, looking at environmental cues for drinking. They wanted to determine if alcohol-related risks at college parties are unique to the institution, or whether they vary by other characteristics, such as prevention policies in place.
In some party scenarios, the current study replicated the findings of the original study. In other cases, however, the authors had different findings. For example, when looking at the impact of themed parties, the authors produced similar findings to the older study. Both found that Greek parties and themed parties produce higher BAC levels, and this was particularly true for women. However, while drinking games were associated with increased BAC levels in the original study, the current authors actually found reductions in BAC levels at this campus. At the original campus the drinking games were often played with liquor; in the more recent study, drinking games were more often played with beer which has a lower alcohol by volume compared to hard alcohol.
So what is a prevention expert to make of findings where the research leads us to different conclusions depending on where the study was conducted? Most practitioners already recognize that their campus is unique, but this study is a reminder that prevention approaches should be tailored to align with the unique priorities of the institution. This is best done by relying upon campus-specific data to identify the needs and strengths of students.
How is your campus collecting this data and honing in on key findings? Climate surveys, focus groups, survey data from online or in-person programming, and key informant interviews can all be effective strategies to gather insights that can (and should!) inform prevention priorities and programmatic initiatives.
We also encourage institutions that would like to assess their institutional prevention efforts, identify strengths, and uncover opportunities for improvement to join the Campus Prevention Network by taking the pledge and completing the Alcohol Diagnostic Inventory.