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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Iowa Researcher Looks at Party Characteristics and Risk of Intoxication

Heavy drinking among college students continues to be a serious problem. The risks are significant, including physical and sexual assault, unplanned sexual activity, and even injury or death. Although college parties are known to be high-risk environments, little is known about how specific characteristics of parties such as size, setting, and duration, as well as perception of other drunk partygoers influence student drinking.


[Photo: Dr. Miesha Marzell]

Researchers including Dr. Miesha Marzell, assistant professor of community and behavioral health in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, conducted a study focused specifically on characteristics of parties across various college drinking settings and how those characteristics influenced students’ drinking behaviors.

Overall, they found that more than 50% of students reported drinking to intoxication the last time they attended a party at a Greek house, residence hall, on-campus event, or off-campus residence. The study was published online May 15, 2015, in the Journal of Primary Prevention.

Parties at fraternities and sororities (Greek settings) had the highest rate of drinking to intoxication (62.8%) and perception of others partygoers being intoxicated (68.8%). Greek parties were also most likely to have a keg available, and most unlikely to enforce a minimum drinking age or refuse an intoxicated partygoer more drinks.

As might be expected, the longer students remained at a party, the more likely they were to drink to intoxication. At bars, a cover charge or drink promotion was associated with higher odds of drinking to intoxication.

The study was conducted using data from the Safer California Universities Randomized Trial (Safer Trial), which conducts surveys in 14 public universities in California. Data from 6,903 students in the 2010 and 2011 fall surveys were analyzed.

“We now have a clearer picture of students’ risk of intoxication by setting and of the importance of peer influence on perceptions about drinking,” says Dr. Marzell.

She also believes the findings have important implications for prevention programming.

“An important element of these programs would be the development of refusal skills as it relates to serving intoxicated partygoers,” Dr. Marzell notes.

Furthermore, since drinking to intoxication was prevalent in all campus-related settings (Greek parties, residence halls, on-campus events), the researchers recommend stricter implementation of university alcohol policies, together with collaboration with local law enforcement to promote awareness.

In addition to Dr. Marzell, the study team included Dr. Niloofar Bavarian, California State University – Long Beach; Dr. Mallie J. Paschall and Dr. Robert F. Saltz with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation; and Dr. Christina Mair, University of Pittsburgh.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.