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What Affects College Students’ Decision to Intervene or Not Intervene When Someone is Drinking Too Much?

Across the United States each year, college students experience alcohol poisoning, alcohol-related consequences, and even death from drinking. This is why encouraging students to intervene when they see someone drinking too much is a strategy in place to try and reduce the risk of negative alcohol-related outcomes. However, students may be hesitant to intervene for various reasons. A recent study aimed to investigate what causes students to decide whether or not to take action when they see another student drinking too much.

In this study, data from the Healthy Minds study, an annual online survey, was used to analyze college students between ages 18-25 and their tendency to intervene when they see someone drinking too much as well as their reasoning behind whether they do intervene or not.

The data showed that 46.5% of participants reported being in a situation in the past year when they were around someone who was drinking too much. Within these students, 46.7% did intervene, 27.7% inconsistently intervened, and 25.6% did not do anything. Females, underage students, and students who reported binge drinking were the most likely to take action. A range of reasons for choosing not to intervene were reported, most commonly that students felt that other’s drinking was not their business, that they didn’t know what to do, or that they assumed someone else would do something. The least common reason was fear of getting in trouble. Overall, most students do intervene in these situations at least some of the time.

 Take Away: On college campuses, most students consistently or inconsistently intervene when they see someone else drinking too much. The most common reasons for students not doing anything are the assumption that someone else will do something, not knowing what to do, and beliefs that what others are doing is not their business.

Sanem, J.R., Erickson, D.J., Nelson,T.F., Toomey, T.L. (2019). What Affects College Students’ Decision to Intervene or Not Intervene When Someone is Drinking Too Much? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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