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Amy DeMaria

Georgetown Course Shows Promise
for Curbing College Drinking

(Washington, DC)--Once college students know the facts about alcohol use and abuse, they are significantly more likely to curb their own drinking, a study conducted at the Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies has concluded.

The innovative project found that of 31 students enrolled in a one-semester course, Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, 65 percent said they assessed their own drinking habits as a result of what they learned, and 44 percent of the student participants decided to modify their alcohol consumption.

The research team that designed and evaluated the course points out that the study shows that incorporating education about alcohol use into college course curricula, an approach known as “curriculum infusion,” is an effective way to convey healthy messages to students.

“The college experience is about educating students to become responsible citizens,” the researchers write in their analysis of the findings, which was published in the April 2005 issue of Health Promotion Practice. “This initiative demonstrates that curriculum infusion can influence students’ life choices.”

The study was led by Joan B. Riley, MS, APRN, BC-FNP, assistant professor at Georgetown’s School of Nursing and Health Studies.  The two other co-authors are Patrick Durbin and Mary D’Ariano, who participated in the project as undergraduate students and have since graduated from Georgetown with degrees in human science and health systems administration, respectively.

Like many institution of higher education nationwide, Georgetown University is seeking ways to inform students about alcohol use and abuse. The message is not simply that students shouldn’t drink, but rather that they may be misguided about what they think is “typical” drinking.

Students typically perceive that their peers drink more than they actually do, the researchers say, and that can lead to binge drinking, defined as four drinks for women and five for men in a single sitting, within a two week period.  And according to research by the Harvard School of Public Health, 44 percent of college students participate in binge drinking, a figure that has remained constant over the past eight years. 

Binge drinking and over-consumption of alcohol has become a huge public health issue, the researchers say, and one that is preventable. The 2002 report by the Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimated that each year use or abuse of alcohol by U.S. college students leads to 1,400 student deaths, 70,000 sexual assaults, 500,000 injuries, 600,000 assaults by fellow drinking students, 400,000 students having unprotected sex, and more than 100,000 being too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.

To educate college students that moderate consumption of alcohol is the norm and not the exception, universities around the country have begun to incorporate health education into college curricula, in courses that range from anthropology and criminology to political science and sociology. Curriculum infusion has become an “increasingly common and effective method of affecting students’ attitudes and behavior about alcohol in a positive manner,” the study authors say.

The Georgetown experiment arose after an ad hoc group of Georgetown students, faculty, and administrators, known as “Friends,” organized in mid-2001 to mobilize the campus about the adverse effects of alcohol. The researchers then used the curriculum infusion technique in the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention course, which is required for all health studies major undergraduate students in their sophomore year.  They then polled students about their attitudes at the end of the course. Not only had the students examined their own habits, with many vowing to change, but more than 80 percent had become aware of resources on campus that could help them with alcohol use issues, the researchers found.

Riley reports that she has conducted a one-year follow-up survey of the students enrolled in the course.  She and a GU team have applied for funding to utilize the curriculum infusion approach in courses across the campus. She adds that a recent campus-wide assessment of alcohol use by Georgetown students shows no significant changes during the last two years.  Riley says that because “most colleges and universities have seen an increase in alcohol-related harm, some on campus interpret our steady state as a positive.”

Professor Riley said “Recent headlines nationwide about the volume and frequency with which college students are consuming alcohol requires colleges to address this public health concern and seek ways to reduce the resulting harm.  Because academics are the core of our university mission, bringing alcohol issues into course curriculum is essential to demonstrating the importance of this issue to students.  Curriculum infusion is particularly well-suited to Georgetown, where we are committed to self-reflection and educating the whole person--or cura personalis.”


Georgetown University's School of Nursing was founded in 1903. The Health Studies track was added in 1998 to reflect the changing face of 21st-century health care. The School of Nursing & Health Studies seeks to improve the health and well-being of all people through innovative education in the fields of nursing and health studies. For more information, visit

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