Book by George W. Dowdall
Review by Courtney O. Heath, M.S.
First and Second Year Advising
Loyola University Chicago

Advisors have the opportunity to play a key role in reducing college drinking.  While advisors may be aware of their institution’s alcohol reputation and culture and may have students that share about alcohol-related experiences, in College Drinking:  Reframing a Social Problem/Changing the Culture (2013), Dowdall goes to great lengths to reframe college drinking as a social problem.  The first seven chapters of this book support college drinking as a social problem and might help advisors to grasp the entirety of this issue.  The last third of the book provides action steps for students and parents, and suggestions for readers and institutions to help make a difference.  While the application chapters were minimal, there are a few valuable take-aways for advisors.

Dowdall (2013) explains that media attention has played a big part in the transition of college drinking being viewed as a personal student issue to a larger social problem.  The rates of college drinking have actually remained fairly stable over time.  Institutions (and students) often treat college drinking as an acceptable part of the college experience and campus culture.  The majority of institutions cited in Dowdall’s (2013) research have implemented packaged prevention programs.  These well-intentioned programs often do not take into account the unique needs of the campus and student population.  With these programs in place, institutions are complying with requirements, but many do not invest in the kind of programs that will lead to positive change.  According to Dowdall (2013), research shows that targeting individual students, the entire student body, and the surrounding community, yields the highest results.  

By reading this book, advisors can gain knowledge of how to work with individual students regarding college drinking.  Not all college students drink and not all binge drink; however, the students that do binge drink, are high risk in multiple areas.  This text will help advisors identify factors that might raise student’s risk for binge drinking.   These risk factors, along with knowledge of student’s academic concerns (i.e. low grades and attendance), might aid advisors in identifying which students need help.  Further, since this is a larger social problem, students whose drinking is not problematic can be negatively affected by their peers’ actions.  In order to help both groups, advisors must be aware of campus resources, alcohol policies, and enforcement of alcohol policies.  Does your institution have a Good Samaritan policy or a Title IX coordinator?  Are advisors on your campus mandated reporters?  It is important to know the expectations of your role.  It may be difficult for advisors to influence institutional policies and campus culture, but close contact with students could make an impact on individual students.   

The book is dense with many resources and cites significant research.  For practitioners, who are likely looking for application points, the third of the book related to changing the culture may be the most useful.  While this book seems to want to bring institutions and higher education professionals together in order to give the necessary attention to college drinking as a social problem, the author may inadvertently alienate some readers.  This was evident in the author’s clear preference for NASPA as the “most important student affairs organization” (p. 164) and harsh criticism for Jesuit institutions in particular.  These strong opinions, in a book that is meant to bring professionals together, might make readers wonder about the validity of other claims and information in the book.

College Drinking:  Reframing a Social Problem/Changing the Culture. (2013). Book by George W. Dowdall. Review by Courtney O. Heath, M.S. Sterling, VA: Stylus. 2013 pp., $29.00, ISBN # 978-1-57922-813-2
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