16 March 2003 HWS peer studies included in new book


Finger Lakes Times

GENEVA The drug- and alcohol-abuse deterrence method made popular by two local professors is now the subject of a book.

Wesley Perkins is the author of The Social Norms Approach to Preventing School and College Age Substance Abuse, published two weeks ago and based on articles he and fellow Hobart and William Smith Colleges professor David Craig and others have written on the topic. Their approach includes newspaper ads, bulletin boards and messages elsewhere on campus, including these:

  • Eighty-nine percent of 1999s entering Hobart and William Smith Colleges students said no one should drink to a level that it affects academic work.
  • Two-thirds of students drink only one-quarter the total number of alcoholic drinks consumed by students in an average week at HWS.

The social norms approach, developed by Perkins and Alan Berkowitz at the local colleges in the 1980s, is based on research showing that students think their peers are drinking and abusing drugs more often than they really are. Peers have a strong impact on students, so these misconceptions can lead to increased levels of this activity, the argument goes.

The approach, first tried at Northern Illinois University in 1990 and later launched at HWS and other campuses, is to blitz campuses with information that flies in the face of thinking that everybodys doing it.

In his book, Perkins explains the approach, and, with contributing writers including Craig and Berkowitz, tells of how they have been implemented on various campuses. Chapter three, by Perkins and Craig, details the seven-year-old campaign at HWS.

Other chapters tell of the implementation of this approach on campuses such as Western Washington University; of its introduction to middle school and high school students; and about addressing parents misconceptions.

The book also criticizes the usual methods of deterring substance abuse, such as educating young people on the health risks. Perkins argues that scaring young people and relying too heavily on public policy doesnt work.

Traditional attempts to change student drinking behavior and alcohol-related negative consequences have been relatively ineffective, Perkins writes in the second chapter.

The social norms approach doesnt stamp out substance abuse. But at Hobart and William Smith and other campuses across the country where its been tried, it has gotten results where other methods have not, Perkins said.

In a recent interview, Perkins said theres no proof that the Just Say No campaign of the 1980s worked. He also said theres evidence that the DARE program isnt working.

Perkins book is available at www.amazon.com and the publishers site, www.josseybass.com.