High-risk drinking | Tackling high-risk drinking

by Amanda Jovaag, Director of Prevention and Campus Health Initiatives, University Health Services

UW–Madison students participate in high-risk drinking at rates that rival any school in the nation. Our most recent data indicate that 45 percent of students binge drink, a behavior that is concentrated among white-cisgender students on our campus. UHS’s Color of Drinking Survey further reveals the negative effects UW’s alcohol culture can have on students of color, students in recovery, and transgender and gender-diverse students.

The alcohol culture here and in Wisconsin is created by environments that support and sustain it. One of our Student Affairs strategic initiatives is to develop and put into motion a plan that will reduce high-risk drinking — addressing the impact of campus policy and systems in addition to environmental factors. I am leading the core team tasked with this effort.

Our team is participating in a new program from NASPA called 360Proof, which helps universities understand how their alcohol culture is formed and identify a clear course of action for improving the environment.

Research-backed recommendations to change the culture at UW–Madison include:

  • Reducing the acceptability of underage, heavy, and binge drinking.
  • Increasing the cost of alcohol.
  • Reducing promotion of alcohol to youth.
  • Reducing the availability of alcohol.
  • Supporting evidence-based alcohol education.
  • Engaging in preventive health care.
  • Enacting and enforcing policies and regulations.

We have identified colleagues both within Student Affairs and other campus units to participate in a data study and audit of our current campus environment and policies this spring to identify which of the above priorities and action items would most likely create change on our campus.

Thank you to Jenny Damask, Jim Long, Carren Martin, Reonda Washington, and Kevin Wong for volunteering to serve on the core team leading this effort. Much appreciation to Student Affairs colleagues who offered assistance with the larger 360Proof project. Changing the alcohol environment will require engagement from us all.