R. C. Engs, D.  DeCoster, R. V. Larson, &  P. McPheron. (1978)The Drinking Behavior of College Students
and Cognitive Effects of a Voluntary Alcohol Education Program. NASPA Journal  15(3):59-64.

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The Drinking Behavior of College Students
and Cognitive Effects of a Voluntary
Alcohol Education Program

Ruth C. Engs, David DeCoster, Ralph V. Larson, and Philip McPheron
Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405

     Not unlike many institutions for postsecondary education, Indiana University has been experiencing a dramatic increase in student use of alcohol during recent years. Students appear to drink a variety of alcoholic beverages for diverse reasons. Casual and social drinking is common but perhaps more disturbing is the frequency in which these young adults often turn to alcohol for the expressed purpose of getting lost, high, or loaded. When getting drunk is the primary objective, drinking can often result in some type of anti-social behavior such as hostility, aggression, or a general loss of usual inhibitions (Jessor, et. al., 1968; NIAAA, 1974; Research Triangle Institute, 1975). Thus, the behavior observed might include: destruction of University property, fighting, careless driving, or general rowdiness. Such behavior has been reported to be on the increase by various groups serving students during the past few years at Indiana University.

During 1973, the Indiana University Drug Commission reported that 87% of over 4000 students responding to a questionnaire indicated past and present use of alcohol. Many indicted the primary purpose of drinking was to get high (Crowe, 1973). On a national basis, a 1974 report from the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare indicated that alcohol was the drug of choice for 93% of all University students. Furthermore, the highest scores on an index of possible problem drinking behaviors were recorded for the youngest age group for which data were available, the 18 to 20 year olds (NIAAA, 1974).

Thus, after consultation with a representative of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the Division of Student Services, at Indiana University, created the Alcohol Education Task Force composed of students, faculty, counselors, physicians, and administrators. The Task Force was charged with the responsibility of developing an alcohol awareness program for college students. Task Force members agreed upon five criteria for such an educational experience:

1. The program must contain materials that are factually accurate regarding alcoholic beverages and alcohol use.

2. The program must emphasize responsible drinking behaviors rather than advocating abstinence. A decision not to drink, however, should be considered as a legitimate alternative. Positive as well as negative consequences of drinking should be explored.

3. The program should include a cognitive base and then move toward affective considerations. It should demonstrate cultural and social dimensions of alcohol use but, also, provide students an opportunity to focus clearly upon the role of alcohol in relation to their personal objectives, life styles, and values.

4. The program must be designed so that it could be presented by paraprofessionals without the necessity to have professional consultants in attendance.

5. The program must be constructed and presented in a way that is intellectually and socially acceptable to young adults.

A review of the literature and a search for information, including media presentation, revealed that there is a lack of adequate alcohol education materials available for young adults in postsecondary education. Thus, the Task Force began to focus its efforts on developing an educational experience that met the conditions cited previously. The result was an alcohol education and awareness program consisting of four major components.

1. An original thirteen minute film entitled Booze and Yous was created with the assistance of some talented students and a shoe-string budget. The film defines the various types of alcoholic beverages, their assimilation within cultures, and possible physiological as well as behavioral effects of alcohol use. It presents factual information and human relation situations in a way that students find acceptable, interesting and even enjoyable. A W.C. Fields-type cartoon character acts as moderator in the film which frequently presents information in a humorous manner.

2. A series of five value clarification exercises (Simon, Howe, and Kirschenbaum, 1972) were developed for use after the film in small group discussions - approximately ten to fifteen students per group. The exercises assist students to focus directly on their personal attitudes and feeling regarding alcohol and the potential ramifications of drinking. These exercises allow each person to consider such issues as the various dimensions that relate to responsible drinking, the role of peer pressure, individual reasons for drinking o not drinking, and the effect of drinking upon individual life goals as well as interpersonal relationships.

3. To evaluate the effectiveness of the program, the Student Alcohol Questionnaire (Engs, 1975) was developed. It contained items asking for basic demographic information, drinking behaviors, and knowledge regarding alcoholic beverages and their uses.

4. A Group Leader Training Manual was developed for training paraprofessionals (Resident Assistants) to present the program within their residence hall communities. The training consists of communication and interpersonal skills, discussion techniques, and facilitating of the values clarification exercises.

This alcohol awareness program can be offered in approximately two to three hours depending upon the amount of time devoted to the values clarification exercises. Resident Assistants and other paraprofessional staff members or students can be trained in a four hour session to facilitate the experience.


For evaluation of this program a test-retest method with an experimental and control group was utilized (Campbell and Stanley, 1970).

In September 1975, students in one residence center were asked to volunteer for an educational research program regarding "topics of concern to college students such as drinking and human sexuality." Student residents who indicated an initial interest in the program were divided equally into an experimental and control group. Both groups were simultaneously administered the Student Alcohol Questionnaire (SAQ). The questionnaire contained 11 demographic items which have been found to be related to alcohol consumption (Glassco, 1975; Hanson, 1974; Jessor, et. al., 1968, NIAAA, 1974) such as sex, religious affiliation, parental drinking patterns, and year in school. There were 36 questions concerning information about alcoholic beverages and popular drinking myths to which the student responded True, False or Don't Know. Examples of specific questions were: Alcohol is a drug and drinking coffee or taking a cold shower can be effective ways of sobering up. The 23 behavioral items included such questions as the frequency and amount of alcoholic beverages used during particular time periods, the frequency of having hangovers, and situations involving law enforcement officials and institutional representatives (Table 1).

Table I

Percentage of Students Reporting Behavior Related to Drinking Alcoholic Beverages*

  Driving after drinking
  Nausea and vomiting 
  Drinking while driving a car 
  Driving after excessive drinking
  Criticized by a date because of drinking 
  Damaged university property, pulled false fire alarm because  of drinking 
  Came to class after drinking
  Missed class because of a hangover
  Fighting with another person because of drinking 
  Cut-class after drinking 
  Trouble with the law because of drinking 
  Know you have problem with drinking 
  Lower grade because of drinking 
  Lost job because of drinking
After the questionnaire was administered, the 13 minute Booze and Yous film was shown to the experimental group and About Sex (Planned Parenthood, 1972), a 22 minute film on human sexuality was shown to the control group. Students in both groups were than randomly assigned to a small group of ten to thirteen students. Small group participants in the control program received five values clarification exercises containing human sexuality content led by a trained Planned Parenthood volunteer. After an hour and forty-five minutes of discussion, both groups were administered an alternative form of the alcohol knowledge questionnaire. After a three month period, students in both the experimental and control groups were again administered the SAQ. Due to transfers and attrition 50 students in the experimental group and 33 students in the control group completed all of the research conditions including the three month post test.


To ascertain if the experimental and control groups were similar populations, the demographic and behavior items from each group were compared by chi-square analysis. There were no significant differences found between the experimental and control groups on any demographic item, their initial alcohol use behaviors, or their knowledge about alcohol.

The various demographic items of the total population of 83 students produced the following profile: 98% were white; 84% were freshmen and sophomore; 59% were from communities over 50 thousand; 60% were from home backgrounds in which their parents drank at least once a year; 89% had religious affiliations which permitted drinking; and 49% were male and 51% were female.

Presented in Table I are the percentages of students who reported various behaviors attributed to drinking at least once during the past year. It might be noted that 10% of the students reported having damaged university property and 4% indicating difficulties with institutional officials because of drinking.

Of those students who reported drinking once a month or more, 76% drank beer, 31% drank wine, and 73% drank hard liquor. Of students drinking at least once a week, 46% drank beer, 3% drank wine and 26% drank distilled beverages. "Heavy drinking" is defined by the Research Triangle Institute (1975) as consuming five or more drinks at any one time at least once a week. Of the 46% of students who drank beer at least once a week, 37% reported drinking at least five glasses or cans at any one time which would be considered heavy drinking.

Of all individuals (86%) who drink beer at least once a year, 20% reported that they drank over five cans or glasses and 63% indicated they drank from one to four cans at any one time. Of all students reporting they drink wine at least once a year (69%), 16% consumed five or more glasses and 57% consumed from one to four glasses of wine at any one time. Of students who reported drinking hard liquor at least once a year, 27% drank at least five or more glasses and 75% drank between one and four glasses at any one time. About 6% of all students did not drink beer, 17% did not drink wine, and 6% did not drink hard liquors at all. Only 5% of the students adhered to abstinence of all types of alcohol beverages.

Table II

Means and Standard Deviations of Cognitive Scores on the Student Alcohol Questionnaire for Students between the Experimental Group and the Control Group

Three Month Post Test
  x       SD     df      t   x       SD     df     t   x       SD     df      t
Experimental Group (N-50) 20.28  5.34 28.02  3.62  25.76  4.00
                     81   0.29                      81   7.52*                     81    4.61*
Control Group (N = 33) 20.64  5.54  20.91   4.93  20.70  6.22
* p < .001

A t-test (Table II) indicated no significant difference between the pre-test mean scores of knowledge about alcohol as measured by the SAQ between the experimental and control groups. There was, however, a significant difference in mean scores between the experimental and the control groups for the post test administered immediately after the experimental and control treatments (p <.05). There was also a significant difference in means between scores for the three month post test (p <.05). This analysis indicated that the students in the experimental group had gained significant knowledge about alcohol as measured by the SAQ immediately after the program and had retained this knowledge after a lapse time of three months. apparently the program was effective in increasing knowledge about alcohol as well as dispelling misinformation concerning popular myths associated with drinking.

After the experimental treatment, participating students were asked to write anonymously their opinions and feelings about the program. The majority of reactions were most favorble and students found the experience to be not only intellectually and socially acceptable but even enjoyable.


The formation of the Indiana University Alcohol Education Task Force brought together university students, staff, and faculty to discuss possible campus "drinking problems" and to plan, implement and evaluate an alcohol awareness program for students. As part of the evaluation of the program, it was found that the majority of the students in the sample appeared to be drinking on a regular basis and about 12% might be considered to be heavy drinkers. Only 5% indicated that they abstained from all alcoholic beverages. The majority of students appeared to have had minor problems associated with drinking such as "hangovers" and a few have had problems with the school administration or law enforcement agencies due to behavior related drinking.

In evaluating the effect of the alcohol education program in changing knowledge concerning alcohol use, it appears that the program is effective in increasing knowledge about alcohol for at least a three month period. Also, the students indicated that they like the approach of the program and had gained a greater understanding of their personal behavior. Thus, the task force accomplished its goals of planning, implementing and evaluating an alcohol education program for students. Future research should determine if the increase in knowledge reported herein is sustained on a longitudinal basis and assess if drinking behvior is affected by the program.


Campbell, D.T., & Stanley, J. Experimental and quasi - experimental designs for research. Rand McNally, 1970.

Crowe, J.W., Indiana University Drug Commission Report, Bloomington, Indiana: unpublished report, 1973.

Engs, R.C. Student alcohol questionnaire. Bloomington, Indiana: unpublished paper, 1975.

Glassco, K. Drinking habits of seniors in a southern university. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, Fall 1975, 26-29.

Hanson, D. J. Drinkingattitudes and behaviors among college students. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, Spring 1974, 7-13.

Jessor, R., Graves, T.D., Hanson, R.C. & Jessor, S.L. Society, personality and deviant behavior: A study of a tri-ethnic community. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.

National Institute of Alcoholism & Alcohol Abuse. Alcohol & Health, Second special report for the U.S. Congress. Washington, D.C.: Health, Education and Welfare, 1974.

Planned Parenthood, About sex. Texture Films, 1600 Broadway, New York, 1972.

Research Triangle Institute, Final report: Center for the study and social behavior, a national study on adolescent drinking behavior, attitudes and correlates. Reprinted by National Clearning House for Alcohol Information, Health, Education and Welfre, 1975.

Simon, S., Howe, L., Kirschenbaum, H. Values clarification: A handbook of practical strategies for teachers and students. New York: Hart Publication, 1972.