Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Jan. 23, 1998

Perception part of the alcohol problem

by Diana Pounds

Students think their peers drink more than they do, and this misperception contributes to more drinking, Alan Berkowitz told approximately 300 students and other members of the campus and Ames community Jan. 20.

Berkowitz, a national expert on alcohol prevention programs, spent three days on campus speaking and conducting workshops.

Individuals are more likely to suppress their views on drinking if they believe most of their peers are more permissive, Berkowitz said. They also may be encouraged to drink more because they believe everyone else is doing so.

Berkowitz speculated that a proposal for a dry Veishea at Iowa State may fall victim to this kind of thinking. Ask students what they think of the proposal personally and "I think most people would probably agree that it's a good idea to have a dry Veishea this year," he said.

But ask students what they think their peers' reaction to the proposal will be and "I believe that most students will say, 'Well, it really won't work.'"

"Because we all think that no one else agrees with us, we won't act on what we feel," Berkowitz said. "If we have the courage to really say and act out what we really feel and we all do it, then we can actually change what is happening."

Berkowitz said if students don't speak up to the problem drinkers, they are abdicating their responsibility "for intervening with a peer."

"You already have a lot more power than you think you have," he told students. "If you intervene with other students, that will be more effective than anything else anyone else could do."

Berkowitz also advised faculty and staff and non-drinking students not to contribute to the stereotype that most students are problem drinkers. "If we talk about students as if the misperception is true, then we are guilty of spreading the misperception," he said. "It may be that faculty and student leaders and administration, by the way we talk about our students, perpetuate the problem behavior."

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