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Substance Abuse in Greek Life: How Much of a Problem Is It?

June 7, 2022

Table of Contents

Sororities and fraternities (colloquially referred to as “Greek life”) on college campuses offer students many positive benefits. However, they can also offer an opportunity to engage in dangerous drinking and substance use. Schools with robust Greek life often have heavy  drinking cultures.[1] In this article, we'll explore this problem and offer some resources you can use to make your college experience as safe and positive as possible 

Understand the Scope of Drinking in Greek Systems

Alcohol has always been part of higher education culture, particularly within the Greek system. Fraternities and sororities often encourage binge drinking. 28% of college students met criteria for binge drinking  in 2018.[2] In a study of Greek life published in 2018, 86% of fraternity members admitted to regular binge drinking.[3] 

The Drinking Culture within Greek Life

Why do so many fraternity men and sorority women drink heavily in college? 

First, drinking is part of the recruitment process, and is an integral part of the social activities within Greek life. [6] Almost 80% of all hazing activities in both sororities and fraternities involve alcohol.[7] 

In addition, there is often poor supervision of underage drinking. Unlike dormitories which often have a residential advisor (RA) or other authority figure to prevent underage drinking, most sorority houses do not have an RA or other figure responsible for this. 

Fraternities vs. Sororities: Where Does Drinking Happen?

While both Greek men and women drink, the location of the alcohol matters. Based on what are now thought to be largely sexist and outdated laws, The National Panhellenic Conference explicitly bans spending sorority funds on alcohol.[10] That means that sororities are less able to host parties where alcohol is provided because they are not allowed to use their organization’s funds on alcohol directly. Traditionally, fraternities weren't bound by such rules. They could spend money on alcohol, and they could fund parties full of alcohol consumption. Therefore these days most sanctioned drinking events still take place at Fraternities. However, this does not mean that sororities don’t also have a heavy drinking culture.

Consequences of Greek Life Drinking

People have consumed alcohol in college for decades, and the dangers are all too clear and easy to understand. 

Greek students who drink in excess may experience:

Sober Living in College 

Some individuals chose to be abstinent from alcohol altogether in college, even within the Greek system. If this is the route you desire, there are some options for how to stay alcohol free during college, either in or outside of the Greek system:

Sober Houses 

Some fraternities and sororities don't allow any alcohol consumption. You won't find alcohol anywhere on the premises, and you could face consequences if you're drunk at the house. [15] If you already had problems with alcohol or other substances prior to college, this could be a smart option that supports your goal of remaining substance free

Collegiate Recovery Communities

Some schools offer counseling sessions and support group meetings for students with alcohol problems. Joining these groups can be very beneficial for someone recovering from an alcohol use disorder. 

Substance Misuse Resources for College Students

Your college mental health center is a great place to start if you are looking for professional help for a concern with alcohol use.  College counselors know how to help students identify dangerous drinking habits and come up with better solutions. Most college campuses have a number of counselors and mental health professionals available to students free of charge. 

What Can I Do If I Am Concerned About The Drinking Culture At My School?

If you'd like to change the culture of drinking at your school, consider these three web resources:

Substance Abuse in Greek Life FAQs

Can you be sober in a fraternity?

You can always chose not to participate in events requiring alcohol consumption. In addition, several national sober fraternities exist, and you're encouraged to abstain from alcohol if you live in them. But choose a house with a heavy drinking history, and you could get pressured into substance misuse and excessive drinking even if your intentions are good. If this is important to you, make sure you ask the current members during the pledging process about the alcohol culture in their organization and whether or not there is accommodation for students that don’t want to participate in events involving alcohol. 

Why do Greek members drink so much?

Fraternities have long been associated with drinking. Movies like Animal House make alcohol seem mandated among the college set.

It can feel like a time-honored tradition to overindulge in alcohol if you live in a frat. But some students are working hard to change this perception and make fraternities safe spaces for socializing without necessarily requiring alcohol consumption. 

Why is Greek drinking a big deal?

Hazing and initiation events are associated with heavy alcohol intake. Students have died as they tried to follow the rules and drink as hard as the members asked them to. In addition, as explained above, there is increased risk for injury, sexual assault, poor academic preformance, and mental health issues for students forced to drink heavily within Greek life. 

Do fraternities and sororities condone drinking?

National organizations (made up of adults) do not want students to participate in heavy drinking. Laws, bylaws, and rules should try to keep it from happening. But even so, many students acknowledge that drinking is still heavily a part of the Greek life culture on most college campuses. 

Why do parties happen at fraternities?

Because sororities have historically been banned from spending organization-ear marked  money on alcohol, and most have strict rules that ban alcohol within their houses. Fraternities were exempt from these rules, and for years, it meant men held the parties and women attended. However, this doesn't change the fact that many sororities still host parties in spite of these rules, and many sorority members still drink heavily at other locations including fraternity houses. 


Is Greek life all about partying?
While Greek life is heavily associated with the partying stereotype, many fraternities and sororities are centered on other activities and priorities, such as philanthropy, personal development, academics, and other interests. You can choose a fraternity or sorority where alcohol is not prioritized if that is in keeping with your goals and interests. 

Can I be in a frat or sorority and not drink?

Even though members may feel pressure to party, drinking is not a requirement. There are also sober Greek houses where alcohol is not present at all. If remaining abstinent is important to you, ask around about what Greek houses on campus tend to support non-alcohol related activities. 

Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. College Drinking. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/college-drinking. October 2021. Accessed May 2022. 
  2. Monitoring the Future: College Students and Adults Ages 19-60. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/162576/2019-20%20VOL%20II%20FINAL%203.pdf?sequence=1. 2019. Accessed May 2022. 
  3. Are Fraternities and Substance Use Creating Addicts? The NYU Dispatch. https://wp.nyu.edu/dispatch/2018/03/23/are-fraternities-and-substance-abuse-creating-addicts/. March 2018. Accessed May 2022. 
  4. Greek Life Membership Associated with Binge Drinking and Marijuana Use Later in Life. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/2018/02/greek-life-membership-associated-with-binge-drinking-and-marijuana-use-in-later-life. February 2018. Accessed May 2022. 
  5. A Kentucky Student is Likely the Latest Binge Drinking Death. Colleges Are Trying to Stop It. Courier-Journal. https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/2021/11/01/colleges-prevent-students-dying-excessive-drinking-university-kentucky-lofton-hazelwood/6105809001/. November 2021. Accessed May 2022. 
  6. Alcohol-Free Fraternity Houses. Fraternal Law Partners. https://fraternallaw.com/newsletter2/alcohol-free-fraternity-houses. March 1997. Accessed May 2022. 
  7. The Alphas, Betas, and Gammas: Working with Sororities and Fraternities. My Student Body. https://www.mystudentbody.com/hbg/publicpage/library_sororitiesandfraternities. Accessed May 2022. 
  8. Fraternity Fallout: How Penn State Students Have Responded to New Alcohol Restrictions. StateCollege.com. https://www.statecollege.com/fraternity-fallout-how-penn-state-students-have-responded-to-new-alcohol-restrictions/. January 2020. Accessed May 2022. 
  9. How Fraternity Culture Encourages Excessive Drinking. Pacific Standard. https://psmag.com/education/how-fraternity-culture-encourages-excessive-drinking. October 2018. Accessed May 2022. 
  10. Why Are Alcohol Policies Stricter for Sororities Than They Are for Fraternities? The Daily Pennsylvanian. https://www.thedp.com/article/2017/04/sororities-rules-say-they-cant-host-parties-with-alcohol-members-dont-want-this-to-change. April 2017. Accessed May 2022. 
  11. No More Hard Liquor at Fraternity Houses, National Group Says. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/no-more-hard-liquor-at-fraternity-houses-national-group-says/. September 2018. Accessed May 2022. 
  12. Sexual Assault and Alcohol: What the Research Evidence Tells Us. The Maryland Collaborative. https://nida.nih.gov/sites/default/files/sexualassault.pdf. 2016. Accessed May 2022.  
  13. Patterns and Consequences of Alcohol Use Among UW Students. University of Wisconsin. https://www.wisconsin.edu/news/download/news_documents/2005/november_2005/View-a-presentation-on-the-AODA-survey-findings.pdf. November 2005. Accessed May 2022. 
  14. Facts on College Student Drinking. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/SAMHSA_Digital_Download/PEP21-03-10-006.pdf. March 2021. Accessed May 2022. 
  15. Differences in College Greek Members' Binge Drinking Behaviors: A Dry/Wet House Comparison. The Professional Counselor. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1069424.pdf. 2015. Accessed May 2022. 

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