Fraternity Leaders Are The Heaviest Drinkers

December 15, 1997

ITHACA, N.Y. -- When it comes to fraternity drinking, following the leader can be a dangerous game, a new study released today (Dec. 15, 1997) shows.

Leaders of fraternities, and to a lesser extent leaders of sororities, tend to be among the heaviest drinkers and the most out-of-control partiers, according to researchers at Cornell University and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Their national survey of 25,411 students at 61 institutions reveals that Greek leaders are helping to set norms of binge drinking and uncontrolled behavior.

"In contrast to our expectations, we found that the leaders of Greek societies were among the worst offenders with respect to binge drinking," said Philip W. Meilman, director of counseling and psychological services at Cornell and one of the three researchers involved in the study. "These are the very individuals we would hope would be most concerned about liability and legal issues, as well as other serious consequences related to drinking. But surprisingly, we found that the more involved a person is with Greek life, the higher the drinking level and the greater the adverse consequences."

The study, entitled "Alcohol Use in the Greek System: Follow the Leader?" was co-authored by Jeffrey R. Cashin, Cheryl A. Presley and Meilman, all affiliated with the Core Institute at Southern Illinois. The report appears in the January 1998 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, released today. The journal, published by the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, has been a leader in promoting peer-reviewed research in the substance-abuse field since 1940.

The authors call the results of their study, which come in the wake of several recent, tragic fraternity deaths nationally, "disconcerting" and have advice for college administrators on how to tackle this problem.

In the study, students were categorized according to their degree of involvement in fraternity/sorority life: those who were in leadership positions, those who were actively involved members (but not leaders), those who attended functions only, and those who had no involvement in Greek life. Researchers asked students to report binge drinking episodes (defined as having five or more drinks in a row), the average number of alcoholic drinks they consumed per week, the adverse consequences they had experienced in the previous year due to alcohol or other drug use, and the beliefs they hold regarding alcohol.

The survey revealed: The authors also found dramatic differences in the adverse consequences experienced by the students in the previous year as a result of their use of alcohol or other drugs: In addition, the researchers looked at beliefs that students hold about alcohol. Among the more striking findings was the clear connection between alcohol and sexuality. Approximately 68 percent of the men and 50 percent of the women involved in Greek life endorsed the belief that alcohol facilitates sexual opportunities, compared with 53 percent of the men and 37 percent of the women who were not involved in Greek life. Similar patterns were evident with respect to beliefs regarding social interaction.

"Students see alcohol as a vehicle for friendship, social activity and sexual opportunity, and these beliefs clearly occur to a greater extent among Greeks than non-Greeks," Presley said. "Because of their positions of responsibility, we expected that the leaders would hold more moderate views, but we found that this was not the case. Fraternity and sorority leaders view alcohol in a way that is consistent with that of their fellow members."

"Disconcerting" is how the study's authors describe these findings. They write: "One would expect that the leaders would be sensitive to the risk management and liability issues by virtue of their positions of responsibility and that they would be attempting to serve as role models for members and prospective members. Clearly this is not the case insofar as drinking is concerned and stands in contrast to our hypotheses. In other words, the leaders are participating in setting norms of heavy drinking and behavioral loss of control."

Asked to explain the connection in the data between Greek life and drinking, Cashin said, "From the data we cannot say if it is the case that heavy drinkers are attracted to Greek life, or if Greek life promotes heavy drinking practices, or if it is some combination of both. However, common sense and observation would suggest that a combination of both factors is involved."

Based on their findings, the authors have advice for college and university administrators: "Prevention programming efforts targeting the leaders of fraternities and sororities would be advisable, and research examining the trickle-down effects of such programming for other organization members would be especially interesting," they write.

In addition, Cashin, Presley and Meilman advocate further research into the belief systems of leaders to come to a better understanding of why they feel compelled to drink so excessively.

"It is important to have fraternity and sorority organizations as well as campus administrators and faculty talk together about these issues," Meilman said. "The findings are dramatic and the issues are too serious to ignore. These are real life concerns that everyone involved in campus life needs to attend to."

###




Cornell University

Related Binge Drinking Articles from Brightsurf:

A key brain region for controlling binge drinking has been found
A team of researchers at the Charleston Alcohol Research Center at the Medical University of South Carolina has found that turning off a stress signaling system in a single specific brain area can reduce harmful binge drinking.

What leads to compulsive alcohol use? New experiments into binge drinking provide answers
New study from neuroscientists at Vanderbilt provides initial answers to long-standing scientific questions on what causes the transition from moderate to compulsive alcohol consumption - and what makes some drinkers particularly vulnerable to developing alcohol use disorders.

Mechanism connects early binge drinking to adult behaviors
Intermittent exposure to high levels of alcohol in adolescent animals leads to increased levels of microRNA-137 in the brains of adults.

Diverging trends: Binge drinking and depression
Binge drinking among U.S. adolescents precipitously declined from 1991 to 2018, according to a new study at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Frequent drinking is greater risk factor for heart rhythm disorder than binge drinking
Drinking small amounts of alcohol frequently is linked with a higher likelihood of atrial fibrillation than binge drinking, according to research published today in EP Europace, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

Depression and binge-drinking more common among military partners
New research from King's College London suggests that depression and binge-drinking are more common among the female partners of UK military personnel than among comparable women outside the military community.

Depression, cannabis use, and binge drinking are on the rise among US former smokers
A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, found that the prevalence of depression, cannabis use, and alcohol abuse increased among former smokers from 2005 to 2016 in the United States.

Depression, cannabis use and binge drinking increase the risk of relapse among former smokers
The prevalence of depression, cannabis use, and alcohol abuse increased among former smokers from 2005 to 2016 in the U.S., according to a new study by researchers at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.

Binge drinking may be more damaging to women
In a recently published study examining the effects of binge drinking on rats, researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine discovered that female rats who were of equal age and weight to male rats were more sensitive to alcohol and experienced alcoholic liver injury at a higher rate than male rats.

Binge drinking in adolescence may increase risk for anxiety later in life
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have found that adolescent binge drinking, even if discontinued, increases the risk for anxiety later in life due to abnormal epigenetic programming.

Read More: Binge Drinking News and Binge Drinking Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.