Progress Continues in Reducing High-Risk Drinking

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For the third consecutive year, incidents involving students with dangerously high blood-alcohol content (BAC) levels fell during fall term. The drop follows a series of initiatives designed to reduce the harms associated with high-risk drinking on Dartmouth’s campus.

Aurora Matzkin '97, director of College health promotions, talks about the downward trend of high intoxication incidents at Dartmouth

Aurora Matzkin ’97, director of College health promotions, left, talks about the downward trend of high intoxication incidents at Dartmouth at a meeting called by the Greek Leadership Council on Monday. The meeting was led by, seated from left, Gunnar Shaw ’14, president of the Interfraternity Council; Eliana Piper ’14, president of the Panhellenic Council; Abigail Bard ’14, president of the Coed Council; and Elliot Sanborn ’14, chair of the GLC executive board. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Incidents of extreme alcohol intoxication involving students with a BAC above .25 fell by more than 60 percent this past fall, following a Greek Leadership Council-led effort to limit first-year students’ access to parties at Greek houses where alcohol was present.

“The steady drop in high blood-alcohol cases is encouraging, but we know there is more work to be done,” says Aurora Matzkin ’97, director of College health promotions. “The decision by the GLC to implement this initiative is exactly the kind of student-led action that can produce real campus change. We look forward to continuing to support student groups committed to promoting a safe and healthy campus environment.”

While it is impossible to determine causality from the data, the decline in acute alcohol intoxications comes after the Greek Leadership Council’s (GLC) policy that excluded first-year students from attending Greek events where alcohol was present for the first six weeks of fall term, through Homecoming weekend. The Council is the governing body overseeing all Greek letter organizations: the Interfraternity Council (IFC); the Panhellenic Council; the Coed Council; National Panhellenic Council (NPHC), and The National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO).

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“This initiative was made possible by the hard work of the IFC leadership, as well as cooperation and contributions from Panhell, NALFO, NPHC and the Coed Council,” says Elliot Sanborn ’14, the chair of the GLC executive board. “The experience raises the bar for future student leaders who seek to address high-risk drinking and shows that pro-active student-led reform can and must play a role in making positive change on campus.”

About 50 students, interested community members, and administrators attended a GLC-sponsored public meeting Monday where Matzkin presented data on intoxication incidents and answered questions about the Dartmouth College Health Improvement Project (DCHIP) effort to reduce high-risk drinking.

The number of BACs above .25 this past fall was seven, down from 19 in 2012, 31 in 2011 and 36 in 2010, according to DCHIP. (A BAC of .25 is more than three times the legal limit in the state of New Hampshire.)

During the same period, the campus experienced a drop in medical encounters for intoxication. That figure fell 32 percent from 120 in the fall of 2010 to 82 in the fall of 2013.

While Matzkin stressed that no direct link can be drawn between any policy change and fewer high BAC incidents, she asked students at the meeting if they could share their impressions of how the GLC policy has affected student life. Many students representing groups including First Year Trips, the Dartmouth Outing Club, and Residential Life said they saw a sharp increase in attendance by first-year students at their events and meetings.

Last fall, the office of the Dean of the College set aside funds to support non-alcoholic events in Greek houses and through Collis After Dark. Dean Charlotte Johnson pledged Monday to increase funding for Greek organizations and non-affiliated clubs next fall.

Fall Term alcohol intoxication incidents

Fall Term alcohol intoxication incidents (Sept.-Nov. 2010-2013)

Created in 2011, DCHIP is the College’s multi-disciplinary team of staff, students, and faculty dedicated to reducing the harms associated with high-risk drinking.

Sanborn said Monday that the GLC will continue the policy next fall.

“The GLC’s first year policy is a step in the right direction for Dartmouth’s Greek Community, “says Gunnar Shaw ’14, president of the IFC. “That the Greek house presidents implemented and enforced a policy, in spite of some skepticism among the membership, demonstrates the willingness of leadership to try what might be unpopular in order to promote a safe and healthy campus.”

Since the summer of 2011, DCHIP has tested and implemented many evidence-based strategies and innovations to increase the effectiveness of how Dartmouth addresses high-risk drinking, including:

  • A program called BASICS, for Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students, which is based on principles of motivational interviewing delivered in an empathetic, non-confrontational, and nonjudgmental manner. BASICS is aimed at revealing the discrepancy between a student’s risky drinking behavior and his or her goals and values.
  • Brief motivational interviewing, or BMI, during interactions with students in situations such as health care visits and residence hall meetings, to help students understand how alcohol can affect their lives.
  • More consistent enforcement for violations, such as serving alcoholic punch and so-called pre-gaming, which often takes the form of dorm-room drinking before going to an event.
  • Training of hosts and managers of social events that are often the scene of high-risk drinking, such as Homecoming.
  • Social norms campaigns, which help new students realize that most of their peers are not engaged in high-risk drinking.
  • Bystander intervention programs that encourage peers to help their friends.

Throughout this period, the Good Samaritan program—in which students can call campus Safety and Security about an intoxicated student in need of medical attention without facing College disciplinary action—saw the level of calls consistently remain at around 45 percent of all incidents involving intoxicated students.