One educational approach that has received considerable attention and that is directed at a general college population (rather than just heavy drinkers) is the social norms approach. A fundamental premise of this approach is that a majority of college students do not accurately perceive the rates of alcohol use on campus and may drink to the level of this misperception in order to fit in. Perceptions regarding the amount and frequency of substance use on campus are often greater than actual use (Perkins and Berkowitz, 1986; Perkins, 2002). Several institutions have reported reduction in high-risk drinking over a relatively short time using such approaches (Berkowitz, 1997; DeJong and Linkenbach, 1999; Haines and Spear, 1996; Johannessen et al., 1999, 2002).
Research on social norms campaigns has indicated some promise, although research has generally been limited to case studies of individual campuses, generally without appropriate comparison or control groups, and they often do not control for other interventions aimed at reducing drinking problems. Given the limitations of social norms evaluations, such interventions should be further evaluated. If implemented, social norms approaches should be one component of a comprehensive effort and should not be used as a single strategy.
A growing body of evidence points to the importance of addressing the multiple environmental contributors to alcohol use and abuse, both on and off campus. Research has demonstrated that changes in the normative environment within which students reside can influence drinking behavior. Specific environmental elements on campus—including fraternity or sorority participation, living on campus, and the ready availability of alcoholic beverages—have been identified as the most important determinants of drinking and heavy drinking among college students (Chaloupka and Wechsler, 1996). Research has demonstrated the importance of several environmental factors: access (Wechsler et al., 2002; Weitzman et al., 2003; Bormann and Stone, 2001); cost (Williams et al., 2002; Clapp, 2001); exposure to high-use residential climates (Sher et al., 2001); contextual factors that are predictive and protective of heavy drinking (Clapp and Shillington, 2001); and alcohol policies and enforcement procedures (Eigen, 1991; Palmer et al., 2001). Examples of protective measures include new campus alcohol policies (e.g., no kegs at on-campus parties), legal regulations, alcohol server training programs, and the restriction of low-cost alcohol promotions or “happy hours.” Some studies have shown that