Fraternities and Sororities: Alcohol and Drug Use

Contributor: Lindsay Ensor

Analyses of drinking and drug abuse patterns of 4,299 young adults who were surveyed first as high school seniors and then during college confirm that members of fraternities and sororities engage in significantly higher rates of substance abuse than their college peers.

The young adults who participated in the study were part of NIDA’s Monitoring the Future survey, an annual assessment of substance abuse patterns among high school and college students. Data show that fraternity and sorority members had elevated rates of substance abuse while they were in high school and higher levels of binge drinking, annual marijuana use, and current cigarette smoking during the college years than nonmembers.

Certain College Groups Are At Higher Risk of Drug Use

Social fraternities, sororities, and athletics characterize student groups at high risk for substance abuse. Fraternities and sororities often find themselves at the center of growing concern, as their mere presence on campus is associated with higher campus-wide levels of substance use, particularly alcohol consumption.

Leaders of Greek organizations, particularly male members, accounted for the highest alcohol consumption on many college campuses. Due to the integral social role these organizations occupy on most college campuses, the practices they adopt often advocate the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

The Damaging Impact of Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Heavy and frequent drinking has a damaging impact on health, safety, and the academic experience, not only for heavy drinkers themselves but also for the entire campus and surrounding community. Because they drink more than other students, fraternity and sorority members are also more likely to suffer alcohol-related consequences.

The Core Institute reported that approximately:

  • 50 percent of students living in a fraternity or sorority house performed poorly on a test or project, versus about 25 percent of all students.
  • Approximately 70 percent missed a class, versus about 33 percent of all students.
  • Roughly 59 percent had an argument or fight, compared with 35 percent of all students.

The leaders of fraternities and sororities suffer even greater consequences than other members. One study found that:

  • 26.9 percent of fraternity leaders have an alcohol-related injury.
  • 82.4 percent of fraternity leaders and 78.7 percent of sorority leaders had had a hangover.
  • 71.3 percent of fraternity leaders and 66.2 percent of sorority leaders became nauseated or vomited.
  • 53.3 percent of fraternity leaders and 45.6 percent of sorority leaders reported having alcohol-related memory loss.

Abuse Affects All Students, Not Just the Abusers

High-risk drinking imposes consequences on other students as well, not just the drinkers themselves. Residents in a fraternity or sorority house also experience negative consequences due to other students’ drinking, such as:

  • A serious arguments
  • Assault
  • Property damage
  • Having to take care of a drunken student
  • Interrupted study or sleep
  • An unwanted sexual advance
  • Sexual assault or acquaintance rape

New Experiences Don’t Need Drug Abuse

The college years offer an opportunity for new experiences, personal freedom, and identity development; however, this period can also be the primary time for the emergence of risky health behaviors that place college students at risk for health problems and serious situations listed above.

Affiliation with on-campus organizations such as fraternities or sororities may increase a student’s probability given the rituals and socially endorsed behaviors associated with Greek organizations.

About the Author:

Lindsay Ensor
BS Psychology and Counseling
Member of National Alliance on Mental Illness