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Fighting the Greek System’s Drinking Problem Is a Losing Battle

Researchers say it’s time to try something new—and to stop neglecting sororities.

By Nathan Collins


(Photo: Daniel Parks/Flickr)

It’s no secret that many people in fraternities and sororities are fond of a drink or two (or twelve). Nor should it come as a surprise that members of the Greek system drink more than their non-Greek peers on campus—a fact that can have dangerous implications. Unfortunately, interventions aimed at curbing alcohol consumption in Greek-letter social organizations are having little to no effect, according to a review published this week in Health Psychology.

“Interventions are only somewhat successful at reducing alcohol use by fraternity and sorority members over time,” write Lori Scott-Sheldon and her colleagues at Brown University and the Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. “Clearly, intervention refinement is needed.”

What’s particularly frustrating is that there are proven ways to curb drinking among college students, such as providing personalized feedback and moderation strategies. But fraternities and sororities pose a number of special challenges when it comes to alcohol use and abuse, among them the misperception of social norms in favor of drinking and the expectation that drinking has generally positive consequences, such as improved social skills. The question is, are the interventions that work with other college students and young adults effective once you cross the threshold into Greek campus life?

“Clearly, intervention refinement is needed.”

The answer, based on a review of 15 studies conducted between 1987 and 2014 and incorporating 21 different interventions, is no. Overall, the methods researchers tried—including discussion groups, a strategy to address misperceptions of campus and Greek norms, and tactics aimed at identifying high-risk situations—left no positive impact on how much or how often students in the Greek system drank. In fact, there was some evidence that people who took part in an intervention drank more afterwards.

That’s not to say all interventions were equally ineffective. Interventions that addressed positive expectations associated with drinking, for example, cut the amount fraternity brothers and sorority sisters drank at a single event (though that result is based on only one study). Other interventions were more likely to backfire. Most notably, teaching students how to identify high-risk drinking situations actually increased binge drinking.

Apart from the fact that nothing seemed to work, there was a notable lack of interventions targeted specifically to sorority sisters. “In particular, sorority members are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than non sorority members; this increased risk has been attributed to higher rates of alcohol consumption by both perpetrators and victims,” Scott-Sheldon and her colleagues write. “Despite this, no interventions were specifically targeted to sorority members, whereas 10 studies targeted only fraternity members. Further, only 18% of the participants in the included studies were women. Thus, evaluating interventions targeted specifically to sorority members is an important but neglected area of research.”