This study examines alcohol use, associated problems and secondhand effects among residents of substance-free and alcohol-free housing on U.S. college campuses.
In the spring of 1999, a nationally representative sample of students completed survey questionnaires regarding alcohol use and related behaviors. The responses of 2,555 (61.25% female) students living in different types of residences (substance-free, alcohol-free and unrestricted) at the 52 campuses at which these housing options existed were compared.
Substance-free residences were not substance-free; however, residents drank less heavily and experienced fewer alcohol-related problems and secondhand effects than students living in unrestricted housing. They were less likely (three fifths) to engage in heavy episodic drinking. The difference between students in substance-free and unrestricted housing was greatest for students who had not been heavy episodic drinkers in high school and for those on campuses with lower overall levels of heavy episodic drinking. In contrast, students who lived in alcohol-free halls were no less likely to be heavily involved in alcohol use than were students in unrestricted housing.
Residence in substance-free housing was associated with lower likelihood of heavy episodic drinking in college for students who were not heavy episodic drinkers in high school. Whether or not this is a causal relationship or a result of self-selection needs to be examined in a prospective study. These living arrangements are also associated with lower levels of secondhand effects. College administrators may want to consider offering or increasing their substance-free housing options as one possible method of decreasing heavy student drinking.