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Survey Finds College Drinking Down


March 1995

Despite increasing publicity about the problems caused by student drinking, a new survey suggests that the number of college-age drinkers has been steadily falling for the past twenty years (Higher Education Research Institute, The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 1994, University of California, Los Angeles; William Celis 3d, "Tradition on the Wane: College Drinking," New York Times, Feb. 5, 1995, p. 1).

Recent studies have found connections between drinking and the prevalence of date rapes, hazing, and property damage on campuses (see "College Student Binge Drinking Causes Problems Throughout School," NewsBriefs, Jan. 1995). This study, by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, suggests that problem drinking may be isolated to a few students and that overall attitudes about alcohol are changing, at least among college freshmen.

In 1994, the Institute surveyed 333,703 freshmen from 670 four-year colleges and universities as part of their annual poll of first-year students. In 1994, the number of first-year students who reported drinking beer occasionally or frequently in the past year reached its lowest point ever -- 53.2% (compared to 54.4% in 1993 and 75.2% in 1981). The percentage of freshmen who said they had drunk wine or hard liquor also fell to 52.5% from 66.7% in 1987 when the question was first asked as a part of the survey.

Students interviewed for The New York Times article about the survey attributed the decrease in drinking to changing attitudes. According to one New York University student, on college campuses there "is just an increased awareness that drinking can become something hazardous not only to your health, but your academic life, your studies, your relationships."

The survey also found that smoking among college students was rising. Last year the number of students reporting frequent smoking rose to 12.5%, up from 11.6% last year and 9.1% in 1985.

The number of students who reported that they favor the legalization of marijuana rose this year for the fifth straight year. 32.1% of students said they favored legalization of marijuana, compared to 28.2% in 1993 and 16.7% in 1989.

This is the twenty-ninth annual report on the attitudes of college freshmen for the Higher Education Research Institute. The survey also looks at students' attitudes about stress, politics, current events, and professions.

[For more information about this survey or other related publications, contact the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA at 405 Hilgard Avenue/ 3005 Moore Hall, Los Angeles, CA, 90095-1521, (310) 825-1925. The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 1994 costs $20, and The American Freshman: Twenty-Five Year Trends costs $25.00.]