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Beer-Swilling Frat Boys May Just Be Products of Their Environment


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March 12, 2001 -- "From Sayre Park to Tally Ho, we're gonna get drunk tonight. The campus cops are after us ... ."

Many fraternities and sororities have drinking songs such as this that members and pledges belt out on their way to parties, at bars, and really just about anyplace on college campuses across the country.

No doubt about it, drinking is -- or at least was -- an ingrained part of the Greek experience. How could it not be, with parties just about every night and drinking games accounting for the most frequently practiced extracurricular activities of most members.

And now a new study looks at whether the drinking habits picked up in fraternities and sororities persist in the years after college. The findings, which appear in the March issue of the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, suggest that Greek status does not necessarily lead to heavy drinking after graduation.

As people enter the workforce, get married, and have children, alcohol consumption tends to wane even among the most ardent of Greeks, the new study suggests.

"It's a pretty well-established finding that Greeks drink more than non-Greeks [during college]. There's no surprise there," lead researcher Kenneth J. Sher, PhD, the Curator's professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri at Columbia, tells WebMD.

"What we didn't know is what happens after these individuals leave campus," says Sher, who attended a college without a Greek system. In other words, he asks, "Does the 'Greek effect' persist?"

He found that, alas, it does not.

"It's largely a situational effect," says Sher, also a faculty member at the Missouri Alcoholism Research Center in Columbia. "This is not to say that some Greeks won't later become alcohol-dependent, but there is no additional risk associated with being Greek."

To arrive at these findings, Sher and Bruce D. Bartholow, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, looked at the drinking habits and personality traits of 319 college students during their four years of college and then again three years later.

He cautions that these findings do not suggest that drinking during the college years has no ill effects. For example, alcohol consumption can lead to aggression and date rape, he says.

"If you do drink, there are ways of minimizing the harm associated with it, such as avoiding situations with a high risk for injury like drinking and driving or drinking while camping, where people go and try to find a site in the dark and fall off a cliff," he says.

Certain kinds of drinking situations are high risk for sexual assault and date rape. Often in these cases, "both the perpetrator and the victim are drinking, and often both individuals have some difficulty sending and decoding subtle nonverbal messages," he explains.

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