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Reviewed by:
  • College Drinking: Reframing a Social Problem
  • Rob Turrisi and Kimberly Mallett
College Drinking: Reframing a Social Problem, by George Dowdall. Praeger, 2009. 267 pp. $44.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-275-99981-0.

College Drinking: Reframing a Social Problem by George W. Dowdall is a candid account of college student drinking presented in a social context that highlights the disconnect between the current problem and possible solutions. Specifically, the book discusses the impact of drinking in a community/cultural context and how it impacts individuals who consume alcohol, fellow students who drink or abstain from alcohol, community members, and society as a whole in terms of direct (crimes/violence) and indirect (societal costs) consequences. In addition, issues related to universities' policies and enforcement and the role of the alcohol industry are also addressed. [End Page 240]

Dowdall points out drinking patterns have not changed dramatically since Strauss & Bacon's (1953) seminal work on college drinking, however, the public's perception of the problem and social and media attention have changed. Culture driven expectations about alcohol use in college (e.g., the movie "Animal House") are discussed. In addition, the book addresses and bridges the gap between research and practice and highlights issues relevant to college administrators, parents, students, and community members (the intended audiences).

Issues such as the relationship between alcohol and crime, individual accountability, and universities' responsibility in terms of student behavior both on and off campus are discussed at length. Examples of sexual assault and victimization are given along with alarming rates of under reporting and ambiguity about responsibility when alcohol is involved. The author points out that all too often victims are blamed and perpetrators are excused ironically (and sadly) for the same reason: consuming too much alcohol. Sexual assault is one of many consequences experienced as a result of alcohol and Dowdall explores issues around responsibility and solutions for reducing problem drinking and related consequences. The book highlights the need for institutional accountability and in so doing, provides solid advice and constructive criticism of what colleges and universities could be doing to address this public health concern. As stated in the book, 45% of college presidents do not feel colleges should be held responsible for students' excessive drinking. It is clear that universities are taking different approaches to address the issue of college drinking and Dowdall provides examples of proactive universities attempting to reduce the problem, universities choosing to ignore it, and those sending mixed messages to students about drinking. Dowdall emphasizes implementing policies is not helpful without sufficient enforcement. The book also emphasizes the importance of careful interpretation of university crime rates that may be the result of better resources and enforcement policies, and in turn promote better safety for students. In addition the book addresses universities' responsibility in terms of student behavior off-campus and in the surrounding community. Dowdall offers examples of innovative approaches taken by institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania and their impact on the community.

Dowdall also points out examples of ineffective strategies implemented on campuses, lack of enforcement of existing alcohol policies, inconsistent messages about alcohol use and how these combined with the cultural acceptance of college drinking benefits the alcohol industry. The author further elucidates the role of the alcohol industry in setting alcohol policies and the conflict of interest that occurs considering they profit most from the high rates of consumption in the college population. Furthermore, the imbalance of the lobbying power of the alcohol industry at the state and federal level compared to advocates of alcohol control (e.g. MADD) and how this impacts policy is discussed.

Another strength is the book provides the history and current state of college drinking in a straightforward manner such that a wide variety of individuals should find the information useful and informative. The author offers multifaceted solutions appropriate for a complex social problem that combine research, policy, enforcement strategies and the potential responsibilities of administrators, parents, and students. In addition, predictors and correlates of high risk college drinking are provided which may be helpful for individuals working in student affairs in identifying high risk students and intervene early in an attempt to prevent serious alcohol related...


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pp. 240-242
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