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Poll: White, older students more likely to use substances

According to a poll by The Herald, 85 percent of students have consumed alcohol in the past year

College social life is often perceived to be characterized by rampant drug and alcohol use, a stereotype reinforced by movies, television, books and popular culture.

It may come as little surprise, then, that just shy of 85 percent of Brown students reported they have consumed alcohol and 49 percent have smoked marijuana within the past year, according to results of a Herald poll conducted in March. One in four students reported tobacco use.

The level of alcohol consumption at Brown ranks as average among other Ivy Leagues but higher than the national norm, said Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services.

“The level of drinking at Brown is not completely out of line with other campuses, but enough that we are concerned,” she said.

But the prevalence of drug use excluding alcohol may be less common than perceived — less than 10 percent of students reported having used each of several drugs other than marijuana. The most frequently consumed drug after marijuana was ecstasy, which just over 9 percent of students polled have used in the past year. Around 4 to 6 percent of students reported having used other drugs, including cocaine, hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD and amphetamines that include study drugs like Adderall in the past year.



White respondents reported drinking more alcohol and using more drugs than did non-white students, with 90 percent of white respondents reporting  alcohol consumption in the past year, compared to 77 percent of non-white respondents. White students also reported smoking more marijuana than non-white students — 55 percent compared to 38 percent of non-white students. White students reported cocaine use at almost four times the rate of their non-white peers: 8.4 percent compared to 2.7 percent.

Black students also reported significantly less alcohol use than non-black students, at 74 percent. On average, black students reported using fewer drugs than non-black students.

The poll results also showed a low correlation between Asian respondents and drug use. Just over a third of Asian students reported marijuana use this year. No significant correlation emerged between other races and substance use, suggesting the related statistics are similar to the average.

Similar percentages of males and females reported having consumed alcohol at least once in the past year, but all other substance use exhibited differences by gender. More than half of male students said they smoked marijuana, compared to 44 percent of females.

Males may be more likely to take risks than females, said Frances Mantak, director of health education. The statistic could also reflect male socialization patterns where men “use substances to deal with depression, anxiety and trauma.” White males are also the most likely demographic to join fraternities, which could be a risk factor, she added.

Students concentrating in the humanities indicated they do more drugs than concentrators in other areas, while students concentrating in the physical sciences indicated using substantially fewer substances. Students concentrating in life sciences and social sciences reported average substance use. A majority of humanities concentrators smoked marijuana compared to a minority of physical sciences concentrators, and physical sciences concentrators reported less drug use than the average in every category.

Results show that with each year, drug and alcohol use increases gradually — 79 percent of first-year students reported consuming alcohol compared to 90 percent of seniors.

“It seems to be that more freshmen and sophomores get in trouble in terms of alcohol overdoses,” said Paul Shanley, Department of Public Safety chief deputy. As students get older, they mature and move away from drinking at a high level of intoxication, he added.

Forty-two percent of first-years reported having used marijuana compared to 55 percent of seniors. Less than 3 percent of first-years reported having tried cocaine, but that statistic quadrupled to 11 percent for seniors. Ecstasy, psychedelic mushrooms and LSD use also increased significantly based on class year.

Athletes indicated that they drank slightly more alcohol than non-athletes but smoked less marijuana. Athletes and non-athletes reported almost equivalent drug use.


Combating drinking and drug use

“The behavior of moderate drinkers and non-drinkers is not amplified as much as that of big drinkers,” Mantak said. According to a survey collected last year by Brown University Health Education, 77 percent of Brown students consume zero to four drinks when they go out, which is below the binge drinking level.

Aleyna Mason ’15 and Messhia Young ’15 live on the substance-free floor of Littlefield Hall. Neither student said she consumes alcohol, but both said they were motivated to live in substance-free housing for other reasons.

Mason abstains from underage drinking based on her personal values, she said. “I have a big thing with it being illegal and misused. In this environment especially, I think there is pressure to drink and release your inhibitions,” she said. Substance-free housing offers a “greater sense of community,” she said, adding that she appreciates living in a quiet, clean space separate from areas other students use to party.

Young said her Christian faith, including her family and community values, has influenced her decision not to drink alcohol. “My parents do not smoke or drink because they don’t want things to distract them from living their lives,” she said.

“I am not a party person,” Young said, “but there are things on campus for every type of person.”

Yoon Jeong Chong ’14 said she drinks alcohol on a weekly basis “in order to achieve an alternate state of mind or relieve stress.” Drinking makes her have more fun at night, she said, though “it definitely impacts my schoolwork because I am less productive the next day.”

“People think many more people are using drugs than they actually are,” said Natalie Van Houten ’14, a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. These distorted perceptions make students feel as if they must change their habits to keep up with others. The main goal of SSDP is to promote responsible habits, Van Houten said. Before Spring Weekend, the group will hold workshops and interactive stations as “a fun way to get people to think about their alcohol intake and make sure they are being safe and responsible when they’re drinking,” she added.

Some students who said they use drugs or consume alcohol underage spoke on the condition of anonymity because such behaviors are illegal.

A male first-year respondent  reported that he drinks alcohol about three times per week and smokes marijuana regularly. “My perception of drug use has changed since high school mostly because (drugs) are easier to find and accessible,” he said. Within the past year, he has tried LSD, cocaine, MDMA and Adderall.

“I don’t use drugs to impress people. I have only personal motives, like to understand myself and have a good time at night,” he said.

Another first-year female student said she drinks every time she goes out, approximately three times per week. She also smokes marijuana and has used unprescribed Adderall as a party drug.

“The level of drinking at Brown is exactly what I thought it would be. But people smoke weed less than I imagined,” she said, adding that she would consider trying ecstasy and possibly hallucinogenic mushrooms over Spring Weekend.

“I feel like there are no consequences, especially for Spring Weekend,” she said. “It’s an ‘everyone is doing (it)’ type of thing, but I don’t feel peer pressured.”

A junior female said sometimes she drinks casually while other times she drinks with the goal of getting drunk. She also reported she smokes marijuana more often than she drinks and that marijuana is a way to relax with friends.

“When I drink, it is to relax and have a good time and to get rid of social awkwardness, if there is any,” she said.

She has become more open to trying new substances since coming to Brown. “Every year I feel like I want to try something different,” she said.

She said she thinks she uses fewer substances than the majority of the Brown student body. While she has not tried any other substances this year, she said she would consider doing harder drugs, such as ecstasy or cocaine, for Spring Weekend.

A sophomore male student said he frequently uses Adderall both before studying and partying. “Study drugs are so commonly used by students that I usually forget it’s even illegal,” he said.

It is a common trend among college campuses for students to use Adderall and other prescription amphetamines both to study and party, Mantak said. Students use study drugs “under the false belief it will give you an edge, when in reality a good night’s sleep will,” she said.


Risks and consequences

The University’s policy on alcohol and drug use complies with both Rhode Island and national law. “We want to improve consistent enforcement throughout the campus,” Klawunn said, adding that the Emergency Medical Services system is one of the most effective policies. “Students know that if they call to get help for someone it will not result in discipline,” she added.

An average of five students have EMS called for them on a given weekend, though time of year affects this statistic, Shanley said, adding that there are fewer calls on nights with “bad or cold weather.”

“Students are used to intense striving and self-criticism to get (admitted to Brown), and that causes a lot of harm. Substance abuse is one of the ways that will manifest,” Mantak said.

Mantak said she worries about the small but high-risk groups of heavy users and users of multiple drugs.

“There is far more than the stereotype,” Mantak said.

Alcohol and substance abuse may affect students with varying degrees of severity, Klawunn said. The negative consequences associated with alcohol most commonly reported include “saying something they regret, blacking out, regretted sexual activity and hangover or lack of productivity the next day,” Mantak said.

The University subcommittee on alcohol and other drugs is aware that the use of alcohol and marijuana are the most prevalent on campus, Klawunn said. But drinking alcohol poses more frequent problems such as “fights, vandalism and sexual assault that tend to be connected to alcohol,” she added.

Unfortunately, students do not often reach out for help, Mantak said. “I am much more likely to see someone in a required appointment after a student has been EMSed,” she said.



Written questionnaires were administered to 1,202 undergraduates March 13-14 in the lobby of J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ‘62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night. The poll has a 2.55 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. The margin of error is 3.9 percent for the subset of males, 3.4 percent for females, 5.1 percent for first-years, 5.2 percent for seniors, 6.5 percent for varsity athletes and 2.8 percent for non-athletes.

Find results of previous polls at



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