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Drinking Perceptions

December 4, 2012, 10:00 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Drinking Perceptions
ABERDEEN, SD -

Many think kids go off to college and drink a lot while there. But a Northern State University group is saying that’s not necessarily true.

It’s trying to set the record straight to cut back on dangerous drinking habits.

Students on the NSU campus in Aberdeen have filled out surveys telling how much they drink and how much they think others do. The results might surprise you.

"The perception is that everybody drinks and that everybody drinks a lot," grad student Karla Jager said.

"A lot of people assume that if you're in college, you are partying it up," Tracy Russman said.

And that can be a problem according to Russman. She's the coordinator of an NSU coalition that combats unsafe drinking behavior among 18 to 25-year-olds.

"Students often drink or often behave toward what the perception is rather than the reality," Russman said.

For example, if students are out one night, they might just want a drink or two. But if they think everyone else is having four or five, they might add a few more drinks themselves.

If that's the case, those students could very well be trying to keep up with a level of drinking among others that doesn't even exist. When NSU surveyed students, close to 80 percent of them said they party once a week or not at all.

But students’ perceptions of others' behaviors were much different according to the survey. They thought most people partied twice a week or more.

That isn't a surprise to senior Ben Buckingham.

"I perceived that everyone was going out and drinking a whole lot more than they actually are," Buckingham said.

Jager isn’t surprised either.

"The person that you remember isn't the person who is in the library. The person you remember is the person who came home and was falling over. They're just more visible to us. So I feel that's why I had the perception even though it isn't correct," Jager said.

They can see how that would lead some students to drink more than they normally would. That’s why there's a group at NSU called the Aware Wolves, which tries to correct those misperceptions. They use social media and other forms of advertising to get the real numbers out.

"I think it took me a very long time in my years here and from being an undergrad to a graduate student to really realize there are just as many if not more people in the library than there are at a party on a Friday night," Jager said.

In addition to promoting the actual drinking numbers, the NSU group is trying to educate students and others about safe drinking behaviors.

As he prepares to graduate and leave campus, Buckingham hopes the message sinks in to underclassmen.

"If you go to a party and you think everyone else is having eight drinks in a night, you know, and obviously you're going to try to match that. And maybe you don’t have eight but instead of having three, you'll have six to try to be at that same level. So I think it definitely has an effect," Buckingham said.

The survey results came from a survey in April. The school hadn't conducted the survey for a few years so there aren't other recent results to compare.

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