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Michigan State University

19% Decrease in Personal Alcohol Consumption in 3 Years. 26% decrease in those reporting consumption of 6 or more drinks per occasion during the same time period.


Michigan State University (MSU) was founded in 1855 as the first public land grant university in the nation. The current student population is 44,836, of which 35,408 are in undergraduate programs and 9,428 are studying at the graduate and professional level. In the late 1990's and into the early 2000's, MSU experienced a number of issues attributed to high-risk drinking, including several unfortunate and highly publicized civil disturbances. These incidents resulted in the formation of an "Action Team" consisting of representatives from the campus and surrounding community. Implementation of a social norms campaign to challenge the social context of high-risk drinking was one of the key recommendations made by the Action Team, and was subsequently supported and adopted by university leadership.

Project Description

The social norms project at MSU has utilized a multi-tiered approach, focusing on the global—or "everyday" norms— associated with alcohol use on campus, as well as the norms associated with specific celebratory events. For both the global campaign and the celebratory events campaign, social norms messages have centered on consumption as well as students' use of protective behaviors to reduce harm associated with high risk drinking. The celebratory events that the project has focused on have included Tailgating, Halloween, St. Patrick's Day and Spring Break.

Marketing Methods Employed

Strategies used to distribute the social norms message have included:

  • Newspaper ads
  • Tabletop displays
  • Posters
  • Flyers
  • Classroom presentations and academic orientation

Results to Date

Based on analyses of data from an April 2005 survey of 1,073 students compared to baseline survey in 2002 prior to the project, considerable improvements are evident:

  • 19% reduction in the median number of drinks consumed (from 4.2 drinks in 2002 to 3.4 drinks in 2005).
  • The perception of the amount consumed by the typical undergrad has dropped 23% (from a median of 5.4 at baseline to 4.2 drinks in 2005).
  • The percentage of students reporting 0-4 drinks increased from 48% in 2002 to 57% in 2005, a gain of 19%. It is important to point out that there has been a corresponding 26% decrease in those reporting consumption of 6 or more drinks per occasion (from 43% in 2002 to 32% in 2005).
  • Extreme consumption (8 or more) has decreased dramatically from 31% to 19%, which represents a 35% drop over the three year period.
  • There has also been a slight downward trend in alcohol-related injuries, and a slight increase in the use of protective behaviors by those who drink.
In 2005, for the first time, a majority of MSU students (57%) reported that they drank 0-4 drinks the last time they partied. This will enable the program to prepare messages using 0-4 rather than 0-5 as the majority drinking pattern in the future global campaign. The program's plan has a focus was on protective behaviors that students can perform to reduce the negative consequences of drinking, with the result being a significant increase in one of the most important protective behaviors: reduction in personal consumption. Project staff are currently working on analyzing the synergistic effect of the combination of the global and celebratory campaigns.

Funding Source

The Michigan State University project is funded, in part, through an unrestricted gift from the Anheuser-Busch Foundation.

Principle Investigator

Dennis Martell, Ph.D.
Health Education Services Coordinator
Michigan State University
353 Olin Health Center
East Lansing, MI 48824

For additional information about the project at Michigan State University, visit its web site. Contents of the site include a brief review of social norms theory and campaign ads from several previous years (2000-2002).

**Portions of the information presented on this page were originally prepared by Michael Haines and Richard Rice and are printed here with their permission.