Heavy alcohol use among U.S. college students is a major contributor to young adult morbidity and mortality.
The aim of this study was to examine whether college alcohol policy enforcement levels predict changes in student drinking and related behaviors in a state system of public colleges and universities, following a system-wide change to a stricter policy.
Students and administrators at 11 Massachusetts public colleges/universities completed surveys in 1999 (N of students = 1252), one year after the policy change, and again in 2001 (N = 1074). We calculated policy enforcement scores for each school based on the reports of deans of students, campus security chiefs, and students, and examined the correlations between perceived enforcement levels and the change in student drinking rates over the subsequent two year period, after weighting the 2001 data to adjust for
Overall rates of any past-30-days drinking, heavy episodic drinking, and usual heavy drinking among past-30-days drinkers were all lower in 2001 compared to 1999. School-level analyses (N=11) found deans' baseline reports of stricter enforcement were strongly correlated with subsequent declines in heavy episodic drinking (Pearson's r = -0.73, p=0.011). Moreover, consistently high enforcement levels across time, as reported by deans, were associated with greater declines in heavy episodic drinking. Such relationships were not found for students' and security chiefs' reports of enforcement. Marijuana use did not rise during this period of decline in heavy drinking.
Study findings suggest that stronger enforcement of a stricter alcohol policy may be associated with reductions in student heavy drinking rates over time. An aggressive enforcement stance by deans may be an important element of an effective college alcohol policy.
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