Community Impact on the Negative Effects of Drinking by College Students: Making a Difference


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In 2010, University of Minnesota researchers found that campus administrators were slow in addressing alcohol abuse by students, with only 33% having collaborated with the community to address illegal sales and access to cheap alcohol.

Wolfson’s research indicates that such efforts are likely to be highly successful. While self-reports of actual drinking on campuses receiving the intervention did not decline, negative effects of drinking were strongly influenced by intervention.

Not only did the first-hand effects (DUIs, vomiting in public etc.) decline, but second-hand effects, such as harm to pedestrians and property, also declined with SPARC intervention.

Negative consequences of excessive drinking: Photo by crossfirecw

Wolfson wrote that the discrepency between the findings (drinking rates remaining steady but adverse effects declining) could by explained by two possible senarios: [f]irst…the drinking measures we used may not have been sensitive enough to detect changes in drinking behavior. Second, the intervention itself may have had more of an effect on alcohol-related consequences than on drinking frequency and quantity.

In an exclusive inteview with Decoded Science, Wolfson further speculated that the drinking measures were, in fact, sensitive enough to have detected a decline in drinking.  He continued, “I think it is much more likely that the SPARC intervention had an effect  on the consequences that were experienced” and noted that one of the specific aims of SPARC was to reduce negative consequences, regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed. In other words, the efforts to prevent the negative consequences of binge drinking were doing just that, but were not actually reducing the amount of drinking among the students.

Can Universities reduce the dangers of college binge drinking? Image by VinnyPrime

Reducing Drinking-Related Problems on Campus

College administrators have practical as well as ethical reasons for wanting to decrease the negative effects of drinking on campus; lawsuits and reputations are at stake. Wolfson indicated that efforts such as those by  the National College Health Improvement Project could conceivably use the SPARC model at minimal cost to the colleges.

While it may not take an entire village, SPARC research demonstrates that a committed group of community members and campus leaders can decrease the fallout from college drinking.


National College Health Improvement Project. Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking. (2012). Accessed July 23, 2012.

Wolfson, M. et al.  Impact of a Randomized Campus/Community Trial to Prevent High-Risk Drinking Among College Students. (2012). Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Accessed July 23, 2012.

Nelson, T., Toomey, T., Lenk, K., Erickson, D., Winters, K. Implementation of NIAAA College Drinking Task Force Recommendations: How are Colleges Doing 6 Years Later? (2010). Accessed July 24, 2012.

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