Understanding Substance Abuse in Greek Life

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Numerous studies have shown that substance use is much higher among fraternities and sororities compared to students who are not members of the Greek system. In particular, binge drinking, a form of alcohol abuse, is much higher among students affiliated with Greek life.

Binge drinking is one of the top causes of accidents, sexual assaults, hospitalizations, and deaths on campuses. It also has a profound negative impact on students’ futures.

In a 2017 study by the Journal of Adolescent Health, nearly half of all residential fraternity members reported alcohol use disorder (AUD) symptoms by the age of 35.

Researchers have been trying to figure out why fraternity and sorority houses are hotspots for alcohol and drug abuse, and they’ve come up with these likely reasons:

  • Group living — Students that live on campus are more likely to use substances. Students in Greek housing are at even higher risk.
  • Peer pressure — There is a tremendous amount of social pressure to fit in and participate in parties. Often, individuals submit to the group mindset rather than making their own decisions.
  • Lack of supervision — Instead of RAs, these organizations are led by upperclassmen, who are often front and center at the parties.
  • Hazing — Initiation rituals often include drinking and other risky behaviors.

Alcohol Abuse in Greek Life

Fraternities and sororities can be a positive influence in students’ lives when they help them engage in academics, take part in philanthropic efforts, and organize networking events. Unfortunately, there is a large portion of Greek life that focuses primarily on partying and hazing.

Alcohol is the most abused substance on college campuses. Members of fraternities and sororities consume more alcohol than non-members, especially those that live in Greek houses. Males also tend to consume more alcohol than females, meaning fraternity members are the most susceptible to developing alcohol-related problems.

Binge drinking and other forms of alcohol abuse can lead to serious problems, including:

  • Accidents and emergency room visits
  • Drunk driving accidents
  • Sexual assault
  • Suffering grades
  • Substance use disorders
  • Long term mental and physical health ailments

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Drug Abuse in Greek Life

While there are several scientific studies reporting on drinking in Greek life, there is very little research on illicit drug use in fraternities and sororities. However, “party drugs” such as MDMA, cocaine, ketamine, and inhalants are more prevalent in party scenes, so these will likely show up in fraternity and sorority houses.

The Prevalence of Date Rape Drugs in Greek Life

Rape and sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses around the nation. In recent years, many groups have brought “rape culture” into the light to increase prevention efforts and reduce the number of rape and sexual assault cases. Greek life is a focal point of their efforts.

Studies show that males in fraternities are three times more likely to commit rape than males not involved in Greek life. Women in sororities are 74 percent more likely to experience rape than other college women.

In approximately 90 percent of rape cases, either the assailant, the victim, or both were using alcohol. Date rape drugs are often used as well. The three most common date rape drugs are:

These drugs cause the victim to become drowsy, physically weak, and often make them pass out.

Greek Life Drinking Statistics

  • Over 90 percent of fraternity members are regular drinkers
  • More than two out of every three members identify as “binge drinkers”
  • Approximately 70,000 cases of sexual assault or rape occur in Greek life each year
  • About 500,000 Greek life members suffer injuries due to substance use
  • Half of all students living in a fraternity or sorority house have performed poorly on a test or project due to alcohol
  • 45 percent of all fraternity members have reported AUD symptoms by the age of 35

How to Find Fraternities and Sororities that Don’t Encourage Substance Abuse

There are many fraternities and sororities that actually do have a positive impact on the members. Below are some tips to help you identify these positive Greek life experiences:

  • Research and ask current members about their experience
  • Ask members about their GPA and overall academic performance
  • There may be large recruitment events on campus. Use this time to do research instead of joining impulsively.
  • Find out what their interests and commitments are
  • Look for groups that engage in volunteer work, tutoring, and other community services
  • Ask about parties and other social events
  • Attend mixers and stay sober

What to Do if Your Greek House Has Problems With Alcohol

Fraternities and sororities are large groups of students. Often, the group of people leading others into risky situations is actually small. The silent majority often has issues with this harmful behavior.

One way to address this is to find others who disagree with this type of behavior and speak up about the issues. This may prove challenging, as it takes a lot of courage, but many students find that they are actually in the majority in these cases.

Another good option is to speak with your campus health center counselors or physicians. Many schools provide help for students who are suffering from alcohol use.

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Resources +

Mallett, Kimberly A et al. “An update of research examining college student alcohol-related consequences: new perspectives and implications for interventions.” Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research vol. 37,5 (2013): 709-16. doi:10.1111/acer.12031, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23241024/

Mccabe, Sean Esteban, et al. “How Collegiate Fraternity and Sorority Involvement Relates to Substance Use During Young Adulthood and Substance Use Disorders in Early Midlife: A National Longitudinal Study.” Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 62, no. 3, 2018, doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.09.029, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29455716/

NIDA. "Greek life membership associated with binge drinking and marijuana use in later life." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 15 Feb. 2018, https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2018/02/greek-life-membership-associated-binge-drinking-marijuana-use-in-later-life.

Borsari, Brian et al. “Alcohol use in the Greek system, 1999-2009: a decade of progress.” Current drug abuse reviews vol. 2,3 (2009): 216-55. doi:10.2174/1874473710902030216, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3746189/

Scott-Sheldon, Lori A J et al. “Health behavior and college students: does Greek affiliation matter?.” Journal of behavioral medicine vol. 31,1 (2008): 61-70. doi:10.1007/s10865-007-9136-1, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2430938/

“Fraternity and Sorority Members and Alcohol and Other Drug Use.” NCJRS Abstract - National Criminal Justice Reference Service, Higher Education Ctr for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, Dec. 2002, www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=203748.

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