In order to educate students on the dangers and the risks of alcohol use, many colleges and universities have brought in outside speakers to address these concerns with students collectively. In many cases, these speakers relate their stories about alcohol use, which may include accounts of a near-death experience or the loss of a loved one due to alcohol. Speakers are often brought in to support orientation activities or alcohol awareness week.
There is no research literature on the efficacy of invited speakers for engaging students on the issue of alcohol. Many researchers are skeptical that this strategy is capable of creating even short-term, let alone long-term changes to students’ behavior and decisions regarding alcohol given the weak theoretical underpinnings of this strategy.
In the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s 2002 report, A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges and Universities, the authors identify “tiers of effectiveness” of alcohol prevention, reserving Tier 4 for strategies with “evidence of ineffectiveness.” Within this tier, the NIAAA identifies as ineffective “[i]nformational, knowledge-based, or values clarification interventions about alcohol and the problems related to its excessive use, when used alone.” Inviting speakers to demonstrate the risks of alcohol use to students resides squarely within this fourth tier.
The NIAAA authors state:
“Although educational components are integral to some successful interventions, they do not appear to be effective in isolation. Despite this evidence, informational/educational strategies are the most commonly utilized techniques for individually focused prevention on college campuses.”
In Larimer and Cronce’s research to support the 2002 NIAAA report, the authors state:
“In his 1989 review of the literature on effectiveness of alcohol prevention strategies for adolescents, Moskowitz concluded that the majority of prevention approaches utilized with college students were based on weak or nonexistent theory and had virtually no empirical support for their efficacy. At that time, the most common approaches were informational in nature. They were primarily based on the assumption that students misused alcohol or other substances due to a lack of knowledge or awareness of health risks and that an increase in knowledge regarding the negative effects of these substances would lead to a decrease in use.
“In summary, although several outcome studies evaluating traditional informational programs with college students have been conducted in the past 15 years, the majority of these studies have found no effect of the interventions on alcohol use and/or alcohol-related negative consequences. In his recent meta-analysis of the college alcohol prevention literature from 1983-1998, including only those trials with random assignment to condition, Maddock (1999) concluded that typical education/awareness-based programs (including values clarification approaches) produce on average only small effects on behavior (d = .17). These findings suggest that continuing to pursue approaches based solely on informative or awareness models is a poor use of resources on college campuses.”
While some campuses may choose to continue to invite speakers to present on issues related to alcohol use, we advise that this not be a central component of campus prevention efforts.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges. NIH Pub. No. 02–5010. Bethesda, MD: NIAAA, 2002.
Larimer, M. E. and Cronce, J.M. (2002). Identification, Prevention and Treatment: A Review of Individual-Focused Strategies to Reduce Problematic Alcohol Consumption by College Students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, S14, 148-163.