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Alcohol Abuse Prevention Programs




Quite frankly, I am scared. My daughter doesn’t drink and is headed off to college. Although the campus is only an hour away,  she is going to live in the dorms. The newspapers always have stories about the drinking there, so I wish she would stay home and commute.


My wife is really nervous about sending our daughter to college so far away from home. Our daughter has never been in any real trouble, but we are just concerned about all that peer pressure to drink and maybe even use drugs, too. It seems like all that college students do for fun is drink.



I don’t drink and I am going to college in the fall. What can I do to avoid the whole drinking thing?


I was involved with SADD in my high school. Are there any organizations like that in college?


Campuses across the country have developed numerous programs to address high-risk alcohol use. These programs regularly sponsor such wide-ranging activities as educational interventions including courses, workshops, and online programs; party monitoring; social norming strategies; peer education; development of campus and community coalitions; and involvement in regional consortia with neighboring campuses.


The most effective programs have one thing in common: strong administrative support. In order for the work of the staff involved in prevention efforts to be effective, the President and Vice Presidents of the college must provide them with support from their offices and generate high visibility for their programs. Your discussions with the key personnel and your observations while evaluating a campus should provide you with a sense of whether the chief administrators supply the support needed for prevention programs to effectively address the campus’ alcohol-related challenges.


On many campuses, the alcohol and other drug education and abuse prevention programming is assigned to a Health Educator or Wellness Coordinator. Although this indicates a concern by the administrators about alcohol issues, the heavy workload involved in dealing with the variety of student lifestyle-related health problems (nutrition, smoking, and STDs, for example) can be overwhelming, which will potentially make the alcohol education efforts much less effective. The most effective specialists are those who have positions that are solely dedicated to alcohol and other drug education and abuse prevention.



Online Alcohol Education


Many campuses have enrolled in a variety of online alcohol education programs, the most popular being,, and Often campuses require that students complete the online program prior to their arrival on the campus or within the first few weeks of their first year. These programs tend to take about two hours or so to complete. Although many students complete the programs begrudgingly, their participation will provide them with a foundation of knowledge applicable to the college environment.


If your student is required to complete an online program before the fall semester, it would be helpful for you to complete or discuss it together. Doing so will provide you with many teachable moments, as well as the opportunity to engage in a meaningful and informed discussion with your child about your values and beliefs about alcohol. 


Prime for Life


Prime For Life (PFL) is a research-based program developed by the Prevention Research Institute, a nonprofit educational organization headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky. The content of PFL is based on multi-disciplinary research and contains over nine hundred bibliographical references. PFL is designed to reduce the risk for alcohol-related problems and focus on three measurable behavioral prevention goals: increasing abstinence for a lifetime, delaying the age of first use of alcohol, and reducing high-risk choices. The intervention goals include:


  • facilitating self-assessment of drinking and drug choices; 

  • reducing high-risk use among people who do not already have alcoholism or other drug addictions;

  • facilitating entry into evaluation to determine whether alcoholism or other drug addictions are present;

  • facilitating entry into some form of treatment or a self-help group for those who have already developed alcoholism or other drug addictions;

  • supporting abstinence for all people with alcoholism and other drug addictions.


Prime For Life has been tested and developed for more than fifteen years. Its content is carefully selected to achieve specific attitudinal and behavioral changes. I have conducted numerous courses based on the PFL model and have found it to be one of the most effective educational strategies available to college students. Information is presented objectively and persuasively using documented research findings rather than opinion, exaggeration, or scare tactics.  


This program is not conducted on all campuses. Ask the key personnel about its availability on your student’s campus. If available, I encourage you to have your child participate in the program as soon as possible. See the Resources section for further information about the Prime for Life program and the Prevention Research Institute. 



Peer Education


Peer outreach programs on some campuses are extremely active in their educational efforts even beyond alcohol issues, and often address other health-related concerns such as stress, nutrition, and sex. Peer education programs are usually well received by students. At some colleges and universities, these programs may have just a few members and target just one or two health-related concerns, but they are no less meaningful than high-profile programs.  


Although MADD and SADD are the common peer education efforts in high schools, on the college level numerous peer education efforts are affiliated with the BACCHUS Network. Although originally focused on campus alcohol issues, BACCHUS now provides educational resources for a wide range of health-related issues. BACCHUS provides training for staff and students in effective health education programs through an informative website and targeted workshops, as well as through regional and national conferences.



Social Norms Program


Media hype about college binge drinking, the exaggerated portrayal of college drinking on television and in the movies, “war stories” shared by older siblings or even parents, and many other factors all contribute to a misrepresentation of the breadth and depth of college drinking issues. Such misperceptions, researchers say, can affect a student’s decisions about how much is acceptable to drink. 


The social norms model of prevention programming is based on research conducted by Wes Perkins, Ph.D. and Alan Berkowitz while professors at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, as well as numerous other prevention specialists, that indicates that college students consistently overestimate how much their classmates drink. The strategy is also based on research that indicates that, in reality, most college students either don’t drink or, if they do drink, they do so at a low-risk level.  


Since students are highly influenced by peers and tend to act or drink in a way they perceive to be the norm, confronting these misperceptions about alcohol use is vital. Researchers encourage colleges to publicize around campus their statistics on drinking. According to Dr. Perkins, the strategy behind the social norms model is "to tell the truth about peer norms, rather than moralizing and telling [students] what to do."  


I am not suggesting that a campus that does not have a social norms program is somehow negligent or lacking. The presence of a social norms campaign, however, does indicate a meaningful level of sophistication in addressing alcohol issues. There are many campuses conducting other types of programs that could be just as effective, if not more so.


Parents should be careful not to fall victim to the same media hype that contributes to student misperceptions about drinking norms. Yes, many students drink in a high-risk fashion. Yes, many students have problems due to their drinking. Yes, many students are affected by other students’ drinking.  But – and this is an important but – most students don’t drink and most students have responsible attitudes about drinking. They just don't realize that their attitudes are normative.  Colleges have earned their alcoholic reputations, but college life is not a non-stop party unless the student makes it so. Low-risk drinking can be part of an academically rewarding college career.

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