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Is Substance Abuse in College Higher in Greek Life?

by Landmark Recovery

October 8, 2019

Substance abuse takes many forms on campus but do members of Greek letter societies really drink and use drugs more than the average student?

Well, unless you’re planning to join a completely sober fraternity, you’re going to be exposed to alcohol on a regular basis if you go Greek. Not only is heavy drinking pretty well embedded in Greek culture, this party atmosphere is the driving reason for many getting involved in fraternities and sororities in the first place.

So, before we delve into some snapshot statistics of drinking and drug use in fraternities and sororities, what’s it really like to be involved in this style of campus living?


What’s Greek Life Really Like?

American college campuses have over 750,000 members across a staggering 12,000 fraternity and sorority chapters.

While there are many positive benefits ascribed to Greek organizations, there’s also the issue of the heavy drinking associated with the Greek system which often brings about dramatic consequences.

Although research carried out over the past decade has shown that fraternity and sorority members consistently drink more alcohol and experience more problems related to alcohol than non-members, freshmen are attracted to Greek life for far more reasons than partying.

The public image of these groups focuses on the huge opportunity for networking along with leadership and service skills but behind closed doors the priority can sometimes shift to socials and partying.

That said, membership is relatively challenging. You’ll need to maintain a designated GPA and attendance is expected at a number of weekly events. Most events are actually dry which is not quite the way Greek life is portrayed in the movies. This doesn’t stop many members from pregaming or partying after the event.

Bottom line, just like anything else in life, joining a fraternity or sorority is all about what you make of it. No two experiences are identical although one commonality is that the vast bulk of members will form tight and long-lasting friendships.

But, do more Greek members drink and use drugs than non-Greek students?


Substance Abuse in Greek Life

While substance abuse occurs across campus, more Greek members tend to binge drink and abuse substances than non-Greeks. Men are at greater risk than women with Caucasian frat members under 25 most likely to develop some form of substance abuse disorder.

Back in 1999, following a great deal of publicity about hazing rituals, Borsari and Carew published a seminal review of alcohol use in the fraternity system from 1980 to 1998.

In the course of this review, the authors identified 5 factors associated with drinking in Greek life:

1. Continuity of drinking from high school

2. By deliberately choosing heavy drinking environments, many frat members self-select into organizations

3. The primary role alcohol plays in socialization

4. Members can misperceive the consumption of others and try to keep up when in fact others are not drinking quite as much as they imagined

5. The generally enabling environment that prevails with no real stigma attached to binge drinking or substance abuse in general

A 10-year study showed that 60% of frat member started drinking aged 16 with 97% admitting they drink alcohol regularly. Beyond this, there were a full 64% readily identifying as binge drinkers.

There’s also a reasonable amount of long-term data about substance abuse in Greek life available. Picking through this, we can see that:

  • Nearly 50% of fraternity members present symptoms of alcohol addiction during young adulthood.
  • Over 25% of sorority members present symptoms of alcohol addiction by the age of 35.
  • Fraternity and sorority members were substantially more likely to use marijuana during their 30s than non-Green life members.
  • 50% of Greek life members perform poorly in key assignments due to excessive partying.
  • 70,000 cases of sexual assault and rape are reported each year among Greek life members.
  • A staggering half-million members experience a range of unintentional injuries associated with substance abuse.
  • There are 600,000 assaults and 1400 members die from alcohol related causes.

When it comes to drugs, marijuana and ecstasy are used roughly in line with what you’d find happening across campus in general. There have been a handful of studies pointing to increased drug use among Greek members but the evidence is nowhere near as overwhelming as that concerning alcohol abuse. Where drinking occurs across the board, drug use tends within Greek life tends to be limited to smaller groups with the majority not particularly accepting of this lifestyle choice.


Why Is Substance Abuse More Common in Greek Life?

Having clearly established that frat and sorority members are at heightened risk of substance abuse, why is this the case?

Here are 5 reasons that go some way toward explaining the prevalence of heavy drinking and drug use among Greek society members…

  • Peer pressure and communal living: A number of studies have shown that students living on campus are at increased risk of becoming dependent on drink or drugs. This risk jumps further within Greek societies. This is where peer pressure can become magnified and difficult to escape from. When surrounded by a party culture and wanting to fit in, it’s commonplace for members to drink more than they otherwise would.
  • Initiation and hazing: Many fraternities and sororities still require members to participate in humiliating hazing rituals that routinely involve binge drinking. So, before even getting started, the role of alcohol is clearly defined and sits front and center.
  • Social pressure: Vigorous social pressure permeates all aspects of Greek life and this extends to competitive drinking and drinking games that can completely out of hand.
  • Lack of supervision: Rather than being led by resident assistants, many fraternities and sororities are headed up by upperclassmen who might still be drinking heavily. Intervention is often limited if sanctioned activities take place since Greek societies tend to have a significant and positive financial impact on campus.
  • Access to money: Although it’s a generalization, the bulk of members of Greek societies tend to come from a certain socioeconomic background. When money is on hand and there’s minimal supervision in place, it’s not remotely surprising wealthier students tend to go off the rails.

Is it actually possible to find a fraternity or sorority that does more than endlessly party?



Finding The Right Greek Society For You

As with most things in life, proper research and planning will help you make the best decision when it comes to deciding whether or not to engage in Greek life at college. If you leave things until rush week, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

While many society members are prevented from speaking with potential candidates outside of recruitment events, that needn’t stop you from doing your due diligence. The bulk of society offices publish academic reports and you can ask around among the campus population in general to get a feel for the society you’re considering.

The key to finding a solid chapter is to look for a group with shared interests. If you’re looking to get involved in community service and philanthropy, you’ll have different needs from someone with a heavy course load where you might want to prioritize societies with active study groups along with a high GPA requirement.

Here are a few questions you should have uppermost in mind on your search for the best Greek organization:

  • What type of events take place during the academic year?
  • What are the academic requirements?
  • Can you scale back your Greek commitments if you fall behind on your course?
  • Are there study groups?
  • How many weekly parties are held at the house?
  • What are the general drinking policies?
  • Have any parties been busted and if so, why?
  • Are policies normally enforced?

If you’re looking to avoid a society which is too focused on drinking and partying, this should be simple enough. If a group has a reputation for this type of socializing, it will usually be well publicized on campus so give this group a swerve.

Maybe you’re starting to ask yourself, though, if you should join a society in the first place. We’re not here to tell you what to do but we’d certainly suggest it’s a better course of action to consider a fraternity or sorority in line with your values than to ditch the idea completely.

Why should you consider going Greek, then?


Greek Life: Should You Join Up?

Ultimately, the answer to this will be personal.

According to a 2014 survey of 30,000 graduates, members of Greek letter organizations were more likely to be engaged at work than those who didn’t. This same Gallup survey also showed that Greek graduates tended to thrive financially, socially, and physically. The survey’s findings still hold good even when factors like race, gender and socio-economic background were equalized.

That said, joining a fraternity or society is absolutely not the right choice for everyone. If you’ve got any history of alcohol or drug abuse, Greek life won’t make the best fit for your long-term goals. Sure, you might be attracted to what you view as a society of kindred spirits but take the time to consider the impact over the long haul.

If you’re doing more than just studying – maybe you’re working or you have child care to think about – Greek life will likely introduce too many demands if you’re already struggling with time management.

Remember, too, you can still participate in a broad spread of extracurricular activities even if you’re not a society member.

So, unless you’ve got a genuine reason why joining a Greek society wouldn’t work out, you might be better advised to ask yourself how you can go Greek without compromising your academic performance or your health and well-being.


Is It Possible to Drink Responsibly and Avoid Using Drugs in Greek Life?

While the data demonstrates a clear connection between heavy drinking leading to substance abuse disorders in Greek society members and peer pressure can be extreme, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy a vibrant Greek life experience without drinking to excess or using drugs.

Here are some simple pointers to help you balance Greek life with your college course while avoiding superfluous partying:

  • Choose your social circle with extreme care
  • Turn your back on any bad influences without hesitation
  • Stay busy and occupied at all times
  • Put your responsibilities first
  • Retain a laser focus on your course
  • Monitor your GPA and take action if it starts to flag
  • Feel free to miss parties from time to time
  • Be confident enough to say no to your peers
  • Stave off joining a Greek society until sophomore year

What’s Next?

Maybe you’re heading off to college soon and you’re concerned about substance abuse on campus. Perhaps you’re already enjoying your frat house or sorority experience and you’re already finding yourself drinking too much.

Either way, call our drug and alcohol rehab today at 317-325-8331 if you’re looking to take full advantage of your college experience without substance abuse remaining in the equation.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.