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Michael Haines, Director
National Social Norms Resource Center

College Students Play it Safe:
New Study Shows Protective Behaviors Reduce Risk of Injury

2006 National Social Norms Conference
to Focus on Research and Programs to Curb High-Risk Drinking

Dekalb, IL (July 24, 2006) - A study of more than 28,000 students attending 44 colleges and universities found that college students regularly employ a variety of protective behaviors in order to reduce their risk of injury when drinking. The research further finds that a number of these behaviors correlate significantly with reduced harm, including physical injury to self or others, involvement in a fight, or forced sexual activities. This research will be published in the September/October (volume 54/number 8) issue of the Journal of American College Health and will be presented at the 2006 National Social Norms Conference, July 26-28 in Denver.

"The impact of these behaviors has important implications for the field of college health because our research strongly suggests certain protective behaviors—such as avoiding drinking games and pacing drinks to one or fewer per hour—merit more promotion than others," said Michael Haines, director of the National Social Norms Resource Center. "Given the success that researchers have had using social norms interventions, the promotion of these normative behaviors as an alcohol abuse prevention strategy is clearly warranted."

The study found that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of student drinkers regularly employ at least one protective behavior. In addition, well over half (64 percent) of the students routinely employ two or more, and a majority (58 percent) routinely use one of the behaviors—keeping track of the number of drinks.

Additionally, study data indicates the clustering of protective behaviors has a cumulative effect—the more protective behaviors a student employs, the less harm is incurred. Therefore, even the most high-risk drinkers, who tend to be male students, younger students, and those in fraternities and sororities, can reduce their likelihood of harm by using multiple protective behaviors.

"Even though studies reveal that a clear majority of college students regularly consume alcohol, serious harm is not a frequent occurrence for the majority," emphasizes Haines. This is the positive outcome of college students' responsible, moderate behavior."

Equally noteworthy, the study found that fully 50 percent of college student drinkers choose "sometimes" not to drink alcohol while they socialize, with another 18 percent reporting that they "usually" chose not to do so—making "situational abstinence" another protective behavior. Data suggests this situational abstinence is, in fact, a normative behavior for college student drinkers, with nearly 7 out of 10 students reporting they sometimes or usually refrain from drinking alcohol when they socialize.

This study was conducted using the results of the National College Health Assessment (NCHA), which is a survey conducted by the American College Health Association. The study has over 130 colleges/universities participating nationwide. The NCHA contains a list of 10 potentially protective behaviors, including alternating non-alcohol with alcohol beverages; determining, in advance, not to exceed a set number of drinks; choosing not to drink alcohol; using a designated driver; eating before and during drinking; having a friend keep track of consumption; keeping track of one's own consumption; pacing drinks to one or fewer per hour; avoiding drinking games; and drinking non-alcohol look-alikes. For a copy of the survey and other survey findings, please visit

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About The National Social Norms Institute:
The National Social Norms Resource Center, now the National Social Norms Institute at the University of Virginia, supports, promotes and provides technical assistance in the application of the social norms approach to a broad range of health, safety and social justice issues, including alcohol-related risk-reduction and the prevention of tobacco abuse. Opened on July 1, 2000, the Institute is currently directed by Jennifer Bauerle, an associate professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Virginia. For more information, visit or e-mail the institute at

The annual National Social Norms conference ,co-sponsored by The BACCHUS Network ( is scheduled for July 20 - 22, 2008, in Burlingame, California.