Chapel Hill -- In the past, research has often linked belonging to a fraternity or sorority to heavy drinking during college.
Now, however, contrary to popular belief, students who drink a lot as part of fraternity and sorority life do not necessarily keep drinking at that level after they have finished college, a unique new study shows. Many "Greek" graduates appear to moderate their drinking once they leave campus.
Belonging to and participating in the social organizations, which tend to accept heavy drinking as normal, is what promotes the behavior, not a predisposition to drinking, the study shows. Other research has demonstrated that changing surroundings and social roles associated with work, marriage and parenthood tends to promote varying degrees of abstinence.
"This is an important study because for the first time it shows directly how important the perception of peer support is in these groups and that the behavior changes after college when presumably the peer support ends," said Dr. Bruce D. Bartholow, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Previously, some people have believed that students who were in fraternities and sororities drank heavily because that's the kind of personality they have. We've shown that the social context, or situation, is what's important." A report on the study appears in the March issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, a professional journal published by the American Psychological Association. Besides Bartholow, who earned his doctorate at the University of Missouri, authors are Dr. Kenneth J. Sher, professor of psychology, and undergraduate Shivani Nanda, both at UM.
"In a sense, what we found echoes the expression 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do,'" Bartholow said. "When people are no longer in Rome, they aren't expected to act like Romans and usually stop doing so. In general, the same holds for drinking behavior."