Success of AlcoholEdu results in four more years of funding

Survey results show 45 percent of students think about knowledge gained from AlcoholEdu before a night of drinking. But binge drinking, especially involving hard liquor, remains a concern.

AlcoholEdu, an online program introduced in 2006 to educate freshmen about alcohol consumption, has received continued funding, thanks to survey findings that suggest it works at Stanford.

Ralph Castro, manager of the substance abuse prevention program in Health Promotion Services at Vaden Health Center, recently presented to Student Affairs colleagues aggregated survey results from four classes of Stanford students. The results show that 71 percent of respondents found the program at least somewhat effective, and 77 percent acknowledged they learned something.

Among the other results:

  • 49 percent of respondents said the material better prepared them to deal with alcohol at Stanford.
  • 32 percent said the program changed their attitudes about alcohol.
  • 45 percent acknowledged thinking about information gleaned from AlcoholEdu before a night of drinking.
  • 64 percent would recommend the program for use with other incoming freshmen.
  • 41 percent said information from AlcoholEdu led them to behave more responsibly with alcohol.

The survey suggests the double-barreled success of reduction in alcohol use and reduction in consequences as a result of alcohol abuse, Castro said.

"The most significant thing I took from this is that about 70 percent say it is effective, at least somewhat," said Castro. "Even if that number were only, say, 50 percent, in any particular dorm a resident fellow would tell you that if 50 percent of the students feel better prepared to deal with alcohol, that's a big number. It's important to interpret the results through that lens."

Castro also collaborated with graduate student Somik Raha, who has been researching decision-making models based on institutional values, to evaluate AlcoholEdu on a more quantitative basis. They weighed the $18,000 annual cost of the program against the cost of such factors as emergency room trips due to alcohol poisoning, police personnel time to respond to drinking emergencies, time of residence deans dealing with alcohol crises and the cost of missed classes. The results consistently showed that AlcoholEdu more than pays for itself.

Armed with both sets of data and a strong recommendation from Stanford's Alcohol Advisory Board, Castro successfully approached Risk Management to garner support for the program's continuation. The President's Fund provided much of the initial funding for the program in 2006.

In recommending continued funding, Castro noted that AlcoholEdu was one key to Stanford's request to be exempt from Santa Clara County's social host ordinance. In addition, he pointed out that annual trips to the emergency room for alcohol poisoning have dropped at Stanford from 119 in 2004-05 to an average of about 60 per year over the past several years.

"Essentially, to cover its cost according to the analysis, AlcoholEdu had to be at least 14 percent successful," Castro said. "It far exceeds that."

AlcoholEdu, created by the company Outside the Classroom, is widely used by colleges and universities nationwide, Castro said. At Stanford, the program is mandatory for incoming freshmen. About 99 percent complete the three-hour program before arriving on campus. The national average, by comparison, is 86 percent. The program, one part of a larger substance abuse educational effort at Stanford, takes a harm-reduction approach to drinking by promoting education.

Although the Stanford survey results show that AlcoholEdu has helped educate students about alcohol use, the numbers also reflect troubling signs of binge drinking, especially involving hard liquor.

Fifty-six percent of Stanford respondents choose hard liquor when drinking, as opposed to 34 percent for beer and 10 percent for wine. Thirty-three percent of respondents acknowledge having vomited after excessive drinking, and 28 percent report having experienced memory loss.

All those numbers, Castro said, are suggestive of the prevalence of "pre-gaming," which involves drinking excessive amounts of hard liquor quickly in the early evening – generally via shots – to sustain the effects while attending gatherings at which access to alcohol is regulated. All of Stanford's emergency room trips for alcohol poisoning involve hard liquor, Castro added.

Historically, Castro said Stanford students have reported drinking less than their counterparts at other colleges and universities. In fact, nearly three-fourths of freshmen report coming to campus as non-drinkers. Ten percent acknowledge being heavy drinkers before their arrival. But the survey results suggest that the gap between Stanford students and their counterparts nationwide is narrowing, especially for binge drinking.

As a result, Castro hopes to initiate programs to better educate students about the dangers of binge drinking and its ramifications for potential academic achievement. Part of that effort, he suggested, may involve drawing parents into a closer partnership with the university. National studies show, he said, that parents who give their children clear messages about drinking behaviors in a warm and understanding way can diminish the likelihood of dangerous drinking in the future.

Castro hopes access to additional research about AlcoholEdu nationwide will provide further insights into curbing alcohol abuse at Stanford.