Most media portrayals of collegiate Greek life portray fraternities and sororities as groups that host continuous parties full of binge drinking and promiscuity. Entertainment that focuses on college life often shows less education and more partying, especially when a Greek letter organization is involved.
For decades, college students and alcohol consumption have been closely related, and when people envision Greek life, partying and binge drinking may come to mind. According to 2015 data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 60 percent of college students ages 18–22 consumed alcohol in the past month and an estimated 3.4 million students met the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol abuse on college campuses is a significant problem, so why do Greek letter organizations receive so much of the blame?
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Substance Abuse in Fraternities and Sororities
Fraternities and sororities cultivate positive communities of college students who engage in philanthropic efforts and networking activities. However, over the past decades, Greek letter organizations have gained notoriety for wild parties and dangerous hazing rituals.
One study established five factors that are consistently associated with alcohol use among Greek letter associations:
- Members who drank alcohol heavily in high school and continued into college usually joined a Greek organization.
- Members sought environments where heavy drinking occurred.
- Alcohol use is common among Greek organizations and is involved with hazing and initiation rituals.
- Members have misperceptions of the drinking habits of their fellow brothers or sisters.
- The fraternity or sorority house provided an environment to use alcohol heavily.
Researchers question whether students join fraternities and sororities because of the allure of partying, or if these students were already drinking alcohol and that’s why Greek life gained a reputation for partying and dangerous alcohol use.
Addiction Statistics for Fraternities and Sororities
The increased risk of injuries and death from binge drinking during hazing rituals or parties prompts researchers to examine fraternities and sororities and their use of alcohol. Researchers have found that, in general, young men face a higher risk of binge drinking than women, and men have a higher chance of engaging in dangerous behaviors because of the peer pressure from their fraternity brothers.
Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that among Greek life members:
- Almost half of fraternity members have symptoms of alcohol addiction in their thirties
- Approximately 26 percent of women who lived in a sorority house developed alcohol addiction symptoms at age 35
- Compared to non-Greek life members, those who joined a fraternity or sorority had a significantly higher instance of marijuana use in their mid-30s
Data from a ten-year study of alcohol use in Greek letter organizations revealed that:
- A survey of a national fraternity with 3,400 members showed that 97 percent of the members drank alcohol regularly and 64 percent identified as binge drinkers
- One study showed that 60 percent of fraternity members started drinking at age 16
Why Is Drug Use Rampant in Greek Life Houses?
A significant percentage of college students drink alcohol and engage in binge drinking more frequently than other age groups. However, why do more Greek letter organization students drink compared to other students?
Researchers believe that factors that may be contributing to the high numbers of alcohol abuse among fraternities and sororities include:
- Group living
- Peer pressure
- Lack of supervision
- Initiation and hazing rituals
Hazing is an initiation into a new team, group or organization, like a fraternity or sorority. Hazing can range from humiliating pranks to abuse and criminal activity. Because hazing can sometimes involve physical, psychological and sexual assault, these initiation rituals are often prohibited by law or the college.
Hazing rituals can cause significant emotional trauma and some have resulted in severe injury or death. Pledges who get hazed are often freshmen and are less likely to have been exposed to heavy drinking and illicit drug use, so when a hazing ritual involves alcohol and drug use, their lack of tolerance can have dangerous outcomes.
Lack of Supervision
In most college dorms, a resident assistant (RA) is assigned to each floor to enforce rules and monitor behavior, but in a fraternity or sorority house, upperclassmen are usually responsible for supervision of the members living in the house. As a student, it can be challenging to limit the amount of partying that occurs in the house. Sometimes the head of the house, often the president of the fraternity or sorority, may even encourage excessive drinking.
For some members, Greek letter organizations may serve as a family away from home — or the only family some students have. The social pressure that fraternity and sorority members feel from their peers is a significant factor for the frequency and amount that Greek life students drink.
Drinking heavily and binge drinking are also norms in Greek life, so members are expected to keep up with their brothers and sisters. New members especially may feel an overwhelming desire to belong and a pressure to fit in with the rest of the fraternity or sorority.
Staying Sober During College
Various reasons exist for wanting to stay sober during college. While it may seem difficult, especially if someone is part of Greek life, it’s possible to remain sober during college. Staying sober doesn’t mean a student has to sit in their dorm binge-watching television shows while their peers drink, and students who are in recovery can still attend parties and social events.
If a student isn’t comfortable being around the party scene, they can throw sober parties, explore the town, dine out with friends and experience the arts.
These articles can help students stay strong in sobriety during college:
- 5 Sober Tips for Students in Recovery
- College 101: How to Have Sober Fun in College
- How To Party Sober in 5 Easy Steps
- Sobriety in Social Circles: How to Answer When Friends Ask Why You’re Sober
If a student wants to be part of a Greek organization but isn’t comfortable with being surrounded by alcohol, there are sober fraternities and sororities that they can join to gain the benefits of community and networking.
One of the most well-known sober fraternities and sororities is Alpha 180. They offer similar philanthropic, networking and career-driven opportunities as traditional fraternities and sororities but for students in recovery or students who commit to sobriety.
Collegiate Recovery Communities
In addition to sober fraternities, there are programs and groups called collegiate recovery communities (CRC). These organizations offer students in recovery an opportunity to thrive in college as well as have fun without drugs or alcohol. More than 100 colleges offer a CRC and an increasing number of colleges and universities are planning to implement them in the future.
How to Get Help for Substance Abuse in College
It can be difficult for Greek life members to recognize whether their brothers or sisters have a drug or alcohol use disorder, but if they do identify that a fellow member is struggling, they can perform an intervention. An intervention can be between two members or it can be chapter-wide to address the entire chapter’s drinking habits and to remind members how they can get help.
On-campus resources may help students with alcohol addiction. Students can speak with campus health center physicians and counselors to address their addiction. These centers are most likely not equipped to treat addiction properly, but they can probably guide students to treatment.
If you think you or someone you know is struggling with a drug or alcohol use disorder, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals can create an individualized treatment plan to address substance use and co-occurring disorders. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about which treatment program could work for you.
Bosari, Brian E. and Carey PhD., Kate B. “Understanding Fraternity Drinking: Five Recurring Themes in the Literature, 1990-1998.” Taylor & Francis Online, March 24, 2010. Accessed March 30, 2019. Borsari, Brian, et al. “Alcohol Use in the Greek System, 1999–2009: A Decade of Progress.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013. Accessed April 2019. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “College Drinking.” December 2015. Accessed March 30, 2019. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Greek life membership associated with binge drinking and marijuana use in later life.” Updated February 2018. Accessed April 2019. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” September 2018. Accessed March 30, 2019.
Bosari, Brian E. and Carey PhD., Kate B. “Understanding Fraternity Drinking: Five Recurring Themes in the Literature, 1990-1998.” Taylor & Francis Online, March 24, 2010. Accessed March 30, 2019.
Borsari, Brian, et al. “Alcohol Use in the Greek System, 1999–2009: A Decade of Progress.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013. Accessed April 2019.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “College Drinking.” December 2015. Accessed March 30, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Greek life membership associated with binge drinking and marijuana use in later life.” Updated February 2018. Accessed April 2019.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” September 2018. Accessed March 30, 2019.