Alcohol Culture in University Residential Colleges: a qualitative study


University residential college students (college students) are at particularly high risk for experiencing alcohol-related harms compared to non-college students. Interventions to reduce alcohol consumption in colleges may thus constitute a means to reduce the likelihood of potential harm. However, college students have been reluctant to accept top-down interventions, as they may be perceived as excessively paternalistic. In young adults, a co-design approach has successfully produced acceptable and effective interventions. However, research exploring college students’ suggestions for co-designed interventions is lacking.

Research Questions / Hypotheses

This study sought to explore college students’ suggestions for co-designed interventions to address previous findings that harm-minimisation approaches have been largely ineffective in reducing high-risk drinking and that college students have been reluctant to accept top-down interventions. Accordingly, the present study aimed to elucidate college students’ views about alcohol consumption in college and explore desired interventions. Specifically, this study sought to identify:

  1. The form and content of interventions college students believe would be most effective in reducing high-risk drinking in residential colleges.
  2. College students’ perceptions as to what facilitates high-risk drinking in residential colleges.
  3. Barriers college students perceive there would be to reducing alcohol consumption in residential colleges.




Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted via Zoom and were between 12-27 minutes (M = 18.60, SD = 4.90) in duration. Interview questions investigated students' perceptions of the facilitators of high-risk drinking, barriers to its reduction, and students' suggestions for interventions. Transcripts were imported into NVivo for qualitative coding and semantic thematic analysis


Eight primary themes were identified. Drinking to feel included and drinking to increase social confidence were primary facilitators and students’ desire for autonomy and the minimization and misperception of harms were primary barriers. The most frequently cited desired interventions included initial and ongoing education sessions, peer-led interventions, and hosting enjoyable, alcohol-free events. The most frequently cited undesired intervention was any that could be perceived as paternalistic.


Findings suggest that co-designed interventions that are peer-led, encourage autonomous decision making, and promote alcohol-free activities, would likely be well accepted by college students, while previously suggested paternalistic interventions would likely elicit resistance. These findings will be transposed from thesis format to a journal article format, with the aim of publication in an academic journal.