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NIAAA Report

In 1999, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) convened a blue-ribbon panel of leading researchers, college and university presidents, and students to engage in a series of discussions to address the serious problem of college student alcohol use. Over the course of three years, this task force developed a ground-breaking report outlining the extent of the problem and its many manifestations and providing a guiding framework upon which to develop sound and effective campus alcohol programs.

The 2002 report, “A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges” (PDF) was landmark because for the first time, the troubling dimensions of the college alcohol problem were outlined in terms so stark, no college administrator, alumnus, or student could deny its deadly and damaging ramifications. The magnitude of college student deaths, injury, assaults, academic problems, vandalism, and other secondary effects was so astounding, these statistics garnered the lion’s share of the media attention upon the report’s release and continue to be widely cited today.

In fact, these statistics were updated in March 2005 and amazingly, the problem appears even greater than indicated by the 2002 figures. Researchers report that unintentional fatal injuries related to alcohol increased from about 1,500 in 1998 to more than 1,700 in 2001 among U.S. college students aged 18-24. Over the same period, national surveys indicate the number of students who drove under the influence of alcohol increased by 500,000, from 2.3 million to 2.8 million.

However compelling these statistics, many prevention practitioners would argue the most important contribution of the report was its recommendations for effective alcohol prevention in the college population.

In advance of outlining recommendations for effective prevention, the report provides an overarching framework upon which to consider them. This framework presents three targets for college alcohol prevention efforts: 1) the high-risk student drinker, 2) the student body as a whole, and 3) the campus and community environment. The panel suggests adopting a comprehensive prevention approach that targets interventions and approaches for each of these audiences. While some policies and programs may be more beneficial to the high-risk drinker, others may be more effective across the campus as a whole or even in the community. Therefore, a sound and comprehensive prevention program will include elements targeting each of these audiences in a specific way.

Next, the report outlines different prevention strategies based upon a review of the literature of college alcohol prevention and alcohol prevention targeting the general population. The report provides a tiered system upon which to consider these recommendations:

Tier 1: Evidence of Effectiveness Among College Students

Examples: combining cognitive-behavioral skills, norms clarification and motivational enhancement interventions; brief motivational enhancement interventions; challenging alcohol expectancies.

Tier 2: Evidence of Success With General Populations That Could Be Applied to College Environments

Examples: enforcement of minimum drinking age laws, alcohol-impaired driving prevention, alcohol retail outlet density restrictions, increased alcohol prices and taxes, responsible beverage service.

Tier 3: Evidence of Logical and Theoretical Promise, But Require More Comprehensive Evaluation

Examples: enforcement of underage drinking laws on campus, consistently enforcing disciplinary actions associated with policy violations, conducting marketing campaigns to correct student misperceptions about alcohol use, “safe rides” programs.

Tier 4: Evidence of Ineffectiveness

Examples: informational, knowledge-based, or values clarification interventions about alcohol problems related to excessive use, when used alone; providing blood alcohol content feedback.

In essence, the recommended strategies include: screening and intervention services for the high-risk drinker; an environmental prevention approach to address problems within the entire campus and in the broader community; and support for campus and community collaboration across many constituencies. This approach validates and is in concert with the Effective Prevention approach to alcohol prevention outlined in this Web site.

The report also offers broad recommendations and suggestions for program success, including presidential leadership and participation, student involvement in prevention planning and implementation, and an expanded involvement of researchers in assessing campus alcohol problems and its dimensions, providing answers to policy questions, and last but not least, evaluating program and policy effectiveness in a rigorous manner.

The NIAAA Web site, developed in conjunction with the release of task force’s report, includes sections with information and resources designed specifically for: campus administrators, presidents, parents, media professionals, students, peer educators, residence life staff, and high school guidance counselors.

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