Fraternities, Sororities, and Substance Abuse

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Table of Contents

The extent of Substance Abuse in College Groups

There are a lot of successful people in the world today who were once involved with Greek life. It’s more common that lawyers, politicians, or major company CEOs came from major fraternal organizations. But there is a dark side to these organizations while their members are attending school. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) reported in 2002 that there are 500,000 fraternity members injured each year due to unintentional alcohol-related incidents. With this, there are 1,400 alcohol-related deaths each year in fraternity organizations across the country. Due to Greek life drinking, sorority sisters are more likely to experience the severe trauma of unwanted sexual relations. According to the NCJRS, two out of five sorority sisters will encounter unwanted sexual actions.   

The overall alcohol consumption in fraternal organizations is also higher than other college drinkers. While 36 percent of college students have admitted to binge drinking monthly, 86 percent of fraternity members have admitted to monthly binge drinking. This level of alcohol consumption leads to many incidents such as major injuries, car accidents, academic failure, sexual assault, or death. Using addictive substances doesn’t end with alcohol, as drugs have become more common in fraternity houses. Marijuana use has been raised among fraternity members and prescription drugs like Ritalin, Adderall, Xanax, and Valium. 

What causes this kind of abuse in fraternity organizations? The common occurrences of peer pressure, constant parties, hazing, initiation rights, and wanting to fit in all play a role in the development of drug abuse. A 2007 article published by Psychology of Addictive Behavior found that fraternities are not inherently enforcing addictive behavior. Rather young adults in college that already have addictions or addictive behavior are drawn to fraternities. Due to the constant pressure and supply of alcohol, addictive behavior can thrive in these households. Due to these behaviors being normalized, binge drinking is a real problem among fraternities. 

The Harms of College Bingeing on Alcohol or Drugs

A serious concern among fraternal organizations is the occurrence of binge drinking. Binge drinking is described as drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time. The Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study (HSPH) has found that college drinking has remained stable since 1993, but the act of binge drinking has been rising. Along with this, the act of abstaining from alcohol use altogether has also been rising. Colleges are concerned for many college students as alcohol impacts more students on college campuses than cocaine, marijuana, or cigarettes combined. According to HSPH, binge drinking is not as prevalent among non-fraternity members and affects four out of five fraternity and sorority members.  

HSPH also found in their research that women are more like to be affected by binge drinking, both by partaking in drinking and the secondhand effects. Women have a different metabolism than men, meaning they cannot drink as much without feeling the effects of alcohol more severely. Along with this, about 10 percent of Greek life women have been sexually assaulted or subjected to nonconsensual sex because of alcohol use. This is compared to the three percent of non-Greek life involved college women who experience binge drinking. 

Binge drinking is also prevalent among underage students involved in Greek life. The HSPH found that students under 21 drank on fewer occasions but would drink more per occasion than their-age counterparts. They also reported that nearly 58 percent of underage drinkers paid less than a dollar per drink, got all their drinks for free or paid a set price for all they could drink. These extremely low alcohol prices lead underage drinkers to more alcohol-related injuries than 21 or older. Another concern found in the HSPH research is that over half of the interviewed underage drinkers began their binge drinking habits in high school. This, in turn, makes Greek life very attractive to maintain their addictive behavior. There are ways that colleges can change the culture of college Greek life drinking.


Changing the Culture of College Life

To change the culture of college drinking, the school will need to step up and promote a new anti-drug culture on its campus. Fraternities can do some good with their philanthropy events, but that overshadows the constant harm and impending alcohol abuse problems. Schools like the University of California Berkley have taken a step in the right direction, banning all alcohol from fraternity and sorority houses in 2010. Other schools across the country have begun sponsoring alcohol prevention and treatment programs aimed at Greek life. Others have enforced zero-tolerance policies that can make an impact on Greek life drinking. Some of the biggest reasons these new policies are adopted are because alcohol and drug abuse are getting out of hand. Another approach to anti-substance is properly educating Greek life members, school staff, alumni, and parents. If they see the harmful effects of alcohol and drug use, there is a lower chance that members will begin using.  

Changing the culture among Greek life will also affect those members after they have left college. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that people previously involved with Greek life will continue to use addictive substances after graduation. People tend to show symptoms of alcohol use disorder by the age of 35. Even more concerning, NIDA found in their research that “males who lived for at least one semester in a fraternity house had significantly higher rates of binge drinking during and after college up through age 35, compared to their peers in college not involved in fraternities, and to non-students of the same age.” Drug use is also prevalent in former Greek life members. Many still using drugs like marijuana through their mid-30s. College administrations need to really involve themselves in the process of change if they want Greek life and college campuses to see positive alterations. 

A Plan of Action for Campus Change

College administrations are taking different steps to prevent binge drinking in both Greek life and non-Greek life students. After the HSPH interviewed 700 colleges, they found that many of them are attempting to change the alcohol-related culture by implementing educational programs for students to attend. Unfortunately, many of these programs have only seen a partial response to these programs. Other colleges are attempting to change the social acceptance of binge drinking by working with local community retailers. There is also a push to get families, administrators, students, and police more involved to really curb the increase of binge drinking.

Another action that colleges should adopt, is the implementation of a 12-step program.

The HSPH outlined 12 steps to best address fraternity binge drinking.

  1. Colleges must acknowledge binge drinking and confront the problem by involving top administrators in the community. 
  2. The president of the university should organize administrators to provide leadership against binge drinking.  
  3. Involve as many people as possible to create solutions. This includes faculty, resident advisors, Greek life leaders, athletic coaches, parents, and students.  
  4. Educate students by pushing alcohol education programs for students and Greek life members to attend.  
  5. Work with the local community to reduce underage drinking and overall alcohol sales. Get the local police involved to help reduce alcohol-related injuries and accidents.  
  6. Help keep non-bingeing students by getting them involved in the process. Secondhand binge drinking can impact them as well, so they should have some way to avoid it. By creating alcohol-free activities, they can feel empowered not to drink.  
  7. Ensure that new rules and code of conduct doesn’t hurt non-bingeing students. Those who go too far should be the only ones facing the consequences.  
  8. Create alcohol-free environments and maintain them so students have a way to stay clear of alcohol.  
  9. Address the problem between Greek life and alcohol. This means putting restrictions on their practices to reduce binge drinking and the high rate of underage drinkers.  
  10. Maintain full-time education on Fridays to reduce the chances of binge drinking during the middle of the week. Ensure classes and exams are on Fridays.  
  11. Encourage students who are addicted to alcohol to seek help. Trained staff, faculty, and student workers on the signs of drinking problems so they may get those people’s help on campus.  
  12. Begin the process of anti-binge drinking during freshman orientation before classes begin. Get admissions, high school counselors, and alumni involved to spread the message for enjoy school, developing friendships, and preparing for the future. 

If colleges can take these steps, the number of students binge drinking and engaging in unsafe alcohol practices can be reduced. The biggest step a college administration can take is working with the surrounding community to shape a new future of college drinking.  


Getting Help for College Substance Abuse

The purpose of Greek life seems to be about connections, support, academic achievement, and brother and sisterhood. If alcohol and drug use become too prominent in Greek life, all that is lost. There are ways for college campuses to reshape the current culture in fraternities and sororities. It all begins with the administration getting involved with Greek life. They need to approach Greek life leaders about changing the culture of using both drugs and alcohol. There are also needs to be a push for change from college students not involved in Greek life since they can be affected by secondhand drinking problems. If schools follow the 12 step program created by the HSPH and use the data from the NIDA, fraternity drinking can decrease, making college campuses safer for everyone. 

High drinking levels can affect you or the ones close to you, so call us at (888) 906-0952  if you need help breaking away from that addictive life. College should be remembered as a fun experience where you made friends and learned to have a successful future. Don’t let alcohol or drug abuse get in the way of those achievements.  


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