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Jewish World Review March 12, 2001 / 17 Adar, 5761

Lee Bowman

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Consumer Reports

Sober frat boy Dubya not unusual, study finds -- College "Greeks'' who drink a lot as part of fraternity and sorority life don't necessarily keep drinking heavily after they graduate, according to a new study.

Earlier research has linked belonging to a sorority or frat to heavy drinking in college, but scientists haven't been sure whether Greek life attracted students predisposed to heavy drinking or whether social situations themselves were responsible.

"This is an important study because for the first time it shows how important the perception of peer support is in these groups, and that the behavior changes after college, when presumably the peer support ends,'' said Bruce Bartholow, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a co-author of the study. The research is being published today in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

College students will drink more alcohol when they are around friends who also drink a lot, whether in a fraternity house or on spring break with a bunch of friends, noted Kenneth Sher, a psychologist at the University of Missouri and the Missouri Alcoholism Research Center and lead author of the study.

"We've shown that it's not the students' personality, but the social context, or situation, that's important,'' Bartholow said.

Sher and Bartholow surveyed 319 college students about their drinking habits and attitudes about alcohol during their college years and again three years after graduation. About two thirds of those in the sample were in a Greek organization at least part of the time they were in college.

They found that Greek members drank significantly more during their college years than students who weren't members. Male and female Greeks were about twice as likely to be rated as heavy drinkers after their freshman years, although there was some moderation among senior men.

But after controlling for background, academics and personality factors, Greek alumni were no more likely to drink excessively three years after college than those who had never joined one of the groups.

"Heavy drinking does taper off for most of these people after college,'' Bartholow said. "Drinking among most members of these social organizations is almost totally driven by what students believe their friends think and not by a need to drink.''

Thus, given this culture versus nature phenomena, colleges that are attempting to curb alcohol use "might profit from a focus on peer-norms re-education, particularly among fraternity and sorority members,'' the researchers said.

And in fact, many recent campus efforts to curb drinking have focused on encouraging frats and sororities to shift emphasis away from alcohol during dances, parties and other gatherings.

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Karen Hucks writes for the Tacoma News Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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