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Research Summary

Alcohol Screening and Referral on College Campuses

Binge drinking is common on college campuses. Since few population-based strategies have successfully curbed binge drinking, approaches that target problem drinkers specifically, such as standardized routine screening in healthcare settings and referral of those in need, are gaining wider appeal. To assess alcohol screening and referrals on college campuses, researchers surveyed a state-stratified, random sample of 4-year colleges/universities with health centers (76% response rate; 234 schools included in the analysis).

  • Thirty-three percent of the schools conducted routine alcohol screening of most or all (96%) students visiting their health centers. Schools that did not routinely screen reported screening only 10% of visitors.
  • Urban, large, and especially public schools were significantly more likely to routinely screen than others.
  • Screening was typically part of a standard medical history and physical. Twelve percent of schools used a standardized instrument (most often the CAGE) to screen.
  • On average, health centers offered 3 referral options, the most common being the campus counseling center, followed by substance abuse treatment in the community, 12-step programs, and individual therapy.


The findings of this nationally representative study highlight both the lack of alcohol screening in college health centers as well as potential inadequacies in practices used by those who do screen (e.g., lack of standardized instruments, referral options that may be inappropriate for college-aged students). Given the harm caused by—and few successful strategies to curb—heavy drinking, college health centers should receive the necessary support (e.g., funding, training) to implement effective screening and referral, including appropriate follow-up to ensure students use and benefit from referral services.

Rosanne T. Guerriero, MPH


Foote J, Wilkens C, Vavagiakis P. A national survey of alcohol screening and referral in college health centers. J Am Coll Health. 2004;52(4):149–157.
(view abstract)