Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Are alcohol-alternative events getting students out of the bars, or preaching to the choir?

alcohol alternative event evaluation results

This year, I'm putting three questions about alcohol use on all of our Late Night event evaluations in an attempt to answer the age-old question: Are we providing alternative events for students who would normally be drinking, or are we providing entertainment for students who don't drink?

We were able to purchase some pretty trendy incentives for under 50¢ each. Combined with an aggressive evaluation table, we were able to get the highest response (n=234) since I've been working here.

The three questions I added to our normal evaluation are:
  1. How many days in a typical week do you drink? (circle 0-7)
  2. How many days in a typical week do you get drunk? (circle 0-7)
  3. How many drinks did you have the last time you partied? (open response)
The questions are rather subjective (what do you mean by 'get drunk'?), but in previous research, subjective questions like these have strongly correlated with AUDIT scores - so we are able to get a rough snapshot of possible alcohol-related negative consequences in a single question rather than listing all 18 questions.

It's important to note that our evaluation table was staffed with student volunteers to try to make students feel more comfortable answering questions about their drinking behavior.

So what were the results? We appear to be preaching to the choir - at least at this Late Night event, which was on the very first night the first-year students were on campus. 69% of the respondents indicated that they drink 0 days in a typical week, 82% said they never get drunk in a typical week, and 49% said they had 0 drinks the last time they partied.

Of the students who filled out evaluations (which was a convenience sample of students in attendance at our event), 82% said they had 4 or fewer drinks the last time they partied. If we knock out the 49% who had 0 drinks at their last party, we get 33% of students having between 1-4 drinks. This is disproportionally high compared to our Fall 2010 NCHA data (random sample) which indicates that only 26.5% of the general student body consumed 1-4 drinks the last time they partied.

Looking at gender differences (female=67%, male=32%), the women drank more frequently (0.60 days/wk vs. 0.40 days/wk) and got drunk more frequently (0.27 days/wk vs. 0.22 days/wk) but had fewer drinks at their last party (2.20 vs. 3.11).

Overall, we appear to be attracting a disproportional number of abstainers and moderate drinkers to our Late Night event. So we might not be pulling students out of the bars, but we're providing entertainment and positive reinforcement for the students who are not heavy drinkers.

And there is something to be said for the 18% of student respondents who admitted to heavy drinking the last time they partied (5+ drinks in a single drinking event). If our sample were representative of the entire event attendance, it would mean we were able to host an alcohol-free night for around 300 at-risk users.

However, this event was the very first event of the year, which means a lot of these first-year students have yet to establish their "typical" college drinking behaviors. I want to continue asking these questions at our five remaining Late Night events to see what type of crowd we bring in.