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Western Washington University

20% Reduction over 3 Years

Project Description

Western Washington is a comprehensive liberal arts university with approximately 11,000 students. In 1997, its office of Prevention and Wellness Service implemented a mass media social norms marketing campaign to correct student misperceptions of alcohol and drug use norms. One result of this intervention was that a 20% reduction in the high-risk alcohol consumption rate was achieved in the first year and has been sustained over a three-year period.

Project Funding Source

U. S. Department of Education.

Project Objective

The primary goal was to correct student misperceptions of alcohol and drug use norms and to limit the availability of alcohol and other drugs. Secondary goals included correcting inaccurate beliefs about student drinking held by key stakeholders and opinion leaders among faculty, staff and community leaders.

Baseline Data

Baseline data revealed that the level of high-risk consumption of alcohol held relatively constant at 34% from 1993 to 1996. However, as measured in 1997, fully 89% of students thought that their peers drank heavily once a week or more.

Primary Normative Messages

Focus group feedback has resulted in the revision of the basic normative message over the course of the intervention:

  • 1997: Most (66%) of WWU students drink 4 or fewer drinks when they party.
  • 1998: Most (72%) of WWU students drink 1 to 4 drinks when they party.
  • 1999: Most (84%) of WWU students drink 0 to 4 drinks when they party.
  • 2000: Most (84%) of WWU students drink 0, 1, 2, 3 or at most 4 drinks when they party.

Marketing Methods Employed

Two advertisements per week in the campus newspaper and posters which appeared around campus and in the residence halls. In addition, a "door-knocker" campaign delivered information about actual campus drinking norms to students and community residents in areas surrounding the university.


To gather pre- and post-intervention data the project employed the WWU Lifestyles Survey, which is administered to a full random sample of WWU students. Additional information was gathered from focus groups and one-on-one interviews with key community stakeholders.

Project Results

High-risk alcohol consumption levels had held relatively constant at 34% from 1993 to 1996. Within the first year of implementation of the social norms marketing campaign in 1997 there was a 20% decline in such behavior. There was also a dramatic first year decline (from 89% to 45%) in the percentage of students who perceived that their peers drank heavily. Most notably, the percentage of students who reported at least one negative effect of alcohol use declined from 61% in 1997 to 51% in 1998.

Further Information

Fabiano, P. M., "Applying the Social Norms Model to Universal and Indicated Alcohol Interventions at Western Washington University," (2003) in The Social Norms Approach To Preventing School And College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook For Educators, Counselors, And Clinicians, Ed. H. Wesley Perkins. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Project Director

Patricia M. Fabiano
Prevention and Wellness Service
Western Washington University
Old Main 560A - Mail Stop 9039
Bellingham, WA 98225

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