Before you consider joining a fraternity or sorority, learn more about drug and alcohol use among collegiate Greek life organizations.

Movies and TV shows always seem to portray college Greek life as continuous parties full of binge drinking, drug use and promiscuity. This media shows less education and more partying, especially when Greek fraternities or sororities are involved.

Alcohol and drug use in college is a reality, and when people envision Greek life, they often think of big parties and lots of substance use. According to 2017 data from the National Institute on drug abuse, 62% of college students consumed alcohol in the past month. In addition, 5.2% vaped marijuana and 1.1% misused Vicodin in the past month. Many people who misuse substances at this age suffer from substance use disorders later in life.

College drinking is a significant problem, but why do Greek communities receive so much of the blame? The answer lies in the types of situations involved in fraternity or sorority life.

Substance Abuse in Greek Organizations

Fraternities and sororities cultivate positive communities of college students who engage in philanthropic efforts and networking activities. However, over the past few 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 in the Greek system. The reasons for drug abuse in Greek life may be related:

  1. Members who drank alcohol heavily in high school and continued into college usually join a Greek letter organization
  2. Members seek environments where heavy drinking occurred
  3. Alcohol use is common among Greek organizations and is involved in hazing and initiation rituals
  4. Members tend to overestimate the drinking habits of their fellow brothers or sisters
  5. The fraternity or sorority house provides an environment to use alcohol heavily

Researchers question whether students join fraternities and sororities to party or if these students were already drinking alcohol and using drugs, giving Greek life a reputation of partying and dangerous substance use.

Greek Life Substance Abuse Statistics

Hazing rituals and parties cause an increased risk of injuries and death, prompting researchers to examine the relationship between Greek housing and substance use. Researchers found that young men face a higher risk of binge drinking than women and have a higher chance of engaging in dangerous behaviors due to peer pressure.

However, alcohol consumption is still high among men and women in Greek organizations, regardless of whether alcohol is allowed in the house. Substance use in an individual’s college years can have long-term effects, such as the development of substance use disorders in the future. 

Data about long-term effects shows that among Greek life members:

  • Almost half of fraternity members have symptoms of alcohol addiction in young adulthood
  • Approximately 26% of women who lived in a sorority house developed alcohol addiction symptoms by age 35
  • Compared to non-Greek life members, those who joined a fraternity or sorority were significantly more likely to use marijuana in their mid-30s

Data from a 10-year study about Greek life alcohol and drinking statistics revealed that:

  • Of a national fraternity of 3,400 members, 97% drank alcohol regularly and 64% identified as binge drinkers
  • 60% of fraternity members started drinking at age 16

Statistics from other surveys show the direct effects of substance use in Greek organizations. Each year:

  • Around 500,000 members suffer unintentional injuries related to substance use 
  • 70,000 cases of sexual assault and acquaintance rape
  • 1,400 members die from alcohol-related causes
  • 600,000 assaults occur
  • 50% of members perform poorly on important school assignments

Why Is Drug and Alcohol Use Rampant in Greek Houses?

Substance abuse in college students is already prevalent, but a significant percentage of students drink alcohol and use drugs more frequently than other age groups. However, why do more members of Greek houses embrace a drinking culture compared to other students?

Researchers believe a few factors contribute to the high levels of substance use in Greek organizations, including: 

  • Group living
  • Hazing
  • Lack of supervision

Group Living

For some members, peers at a sorority or fraternity house may serve as a family away from home — or the only family some students have. Peer pressure among college students is already high, and the increased pressure in Greek organizations may be a large factor in why members use substances in such high amounts. 

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 and pressure to fit in with the rest of the fraternity or sorority.

Hazing

Hazing is an initiation into a new team, group or organization, like a fraternity or sorority. Hazing can range from humiliating pranks to outright abuse and criminal activity. Some types of hazing involve physical, psychological and sexual assault. Because of these possibilities, Greek life hazing rituals are often prohibited by law.

College hazing rituals can cause significant emotional trauma and some have even resulted in severe injury or death, such as the events that took place at Penn State in 2019. Pledges who get hazed are often freshmen and are less likely to have been exposed to heavy drinking and illicit drug use. When a hazing ritual involves alcohol and drugs, low substance 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. One of the problems with Greek life is that 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. Sometimes, the head of the house — who is usually the president of the fraternity or sorority — may even encourage excessive drinking.

Staying Sober in College

Various reasons exist for wanting to stay sober during college. While it may seem difficult, especially if someone is part of Greek life, staying sober in college is possible. Staying sober doesn’t mean a student has to sit in their dorm binge-watching television shows while their peers drink and have fun. 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 or experience the arts.

Sober Fraternities

If a student wants to be part of a Greek organization but isn’t comfortable 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. This fraternity offers similar philanthropic, networking and career-driven opportunities as traditional fraternities and sororities for students in recovery or students committed to sobriety.

Collegiate Recovery Communities

In addition to sober fraternities, there are programs and groups called collegiate recovery communities (CRC). Collegiate recovery programs offer students in addiction recovery an opportunity to thrive in college and have fun without drugs or alcohol. These programs often offer sober living communities for students, so those in recovery will not have to live with people who continue using substances. 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 Substance Abuse Help in College

It can be difficult for Greek life members to recognize whether their brothers or sisters have a drug or alcohol use disorder. If they do identify that a fellow member is struggling, they can perform an intervention for substance abuse. An intervention can be between two members, or it can be chapter-wide to address the entire chapter’s drinking habits and remind members how they can get help.

College resources may help students with alcohol or drug addiction. Students can speak with campus health center physicians and counselors to address their addiction. These campus resources are most likely not equipped to treat these disorders properly, but they can guide students to addiction 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. Contact us today to learn more about which treatment program could work for you.

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Kevin Wandler
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more
Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drug and Alcohol Use in College-Age Adults in 2017.” September 2018. Accessed July 16, 2019.

Bosari, Brian; et al. “Understanding Fraternity Drinking: Five Recurring Themes in the Literature, 1990-1998.” Taylor & Francis Online, March 24, 2010. Accessed July 16, 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 July 16, 2019.

Piano, Mariann; et al. “Effects of Repeated Binge Drinking on Blood Pressure Levels and Other Cardiovascular Health Metrics in Young Adults.” Journal of the American Heart Association, July 3, 2018. Accessed July 16, 2019.

Brown-Rice, Kathleen; et al. “Effects of Repeated Binge Drinking on Blood Pressure Levels and Other Cardiovascular Health Metrics in Young Adults.” The Professional Counselor, 2015. Accessed July 16, 2019.

McCabe, Sean; et al. “How Collegiate Fraternity and Sorority Involvement Relates to Substance Use During Young Adulthood and Substance Use Disorders in Early Midlife: A National Longitudinal Study.” Journal of Adolescent Health, September 15, 2017. Accessed July 16, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Greek life membership associated with binge drinking and marijuana use in later life.” February 15, 2018. Accessed July 16, 2019.

National Criminal Justice Reference Service. “Fraternity and Sorority Members and Alcohol and Other Drug Use.” December 2002. Accessed July 16, 2019.

Holcombe, Madeline. “3 fraternity brothers sentenced to jail in Penn State hazing death.” CNN, April 3, 2019. Accessed July 16, 2019.

Alpha 180. “Alpha 180.” Accessed July 16, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.