Beer-Swilling Frat Boys May Just Be Products of Their Environment
The take-home message for Greek and non-Greek college students and alumni is to be aware of these traps -- and avoid them. Exactly why Greeks drink more than non-Greeks is not 100% clear, Sher says. There may be a predisposition to alcohol use among people who join the Greek system or a stronger norm for drinking in these settings.
"People who live in Greek houses tend to perceive peers as drinking more heavily and approving of drinking more heavily," he says.
This makes sense to Gregg B. Golub, a 35-year-old executive at a New York City-based garment firm who was a member of a fraternity when he attended Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. "To put it bluntly, I did not drink before Greek life," he tells WebMD. "In school, I drank heavily every day. Now, I still drink heavily, but only on occasions."
Golub says he does not blame fraternity membership for any of his habits. "If anything, it was a facilitator for the activation of behaviors that were inherently part of my nature, as opposed to the root cause," he says.
In recent years, due to hazing incidents and alcohol-related problems, there has been a crackdown on the Greek system.
"There have been changes on campuses with alcohol bans, and we have not been tracking that. But a local newspaper did a study showing that arrests for drinking and driving are up, suggesting that alcohol bans on campus are encouraging people to leave the campus to drink," Sher says.
Calling the new report an "important study of a frequently asked question," Henry Wechsler, PhD, principal investigator of the Harvard School of Public Health's College Alcohol Study, says that it's too early to make generalizations from the new findings. The College Alcohol Study looks at the drinking habits of more than 14,000 college students at 119 colleges in 39 states.
Wechsler's findings suggest that people who join Greek organizations are more often binge drinkers in high school than those college students who do not choose Greek life.
"Our findings have consistently shown that people who live in Greek houses drink much more than even those fraternity members who don't live in the house," he says. About four in five people who live in their fraternity or sorority house are binge drinkers, he says.
"If you take a slice of life from fraternity members, more were binge drinkers in high school; in addition, both high school binge drinkers and non-bingers increased their drinking while in a fraternity and drink heavier than non-Greeks," Wechsler says. "So it's both the chicken and the egg."