Student perceptions of drug and alcohol use at Colorado State skewed

While it didn’t quite reach the level of “Animal House” partying, 2011 CSU graduate Zach Hansen said he and most of his friends threw a house party almost every weekend the entire time he was in school.

“My house was only a few blocks from campus,” Hansen said. “All my neighbors were students and we had massive parties every weekend… I would definitely say that everyone at CSU drinks and parties.”

While this might be the stereotypical image that comes to mind when thinking of college nightlife, the actual numbers show that most students at CSU aren’t spending every weekend re-creating “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

According to data compiled by the university, the perception among students is that almost half of their classmates have drank between 10 to 29 days in the last month, while in actuality the number is significantly lower: 15 percent.

“You hear about all of those crazy stories which are really just a handful of things that happen on the weekend,” said Andrea Coryell, the assistant director of alcohol and other drugs at the CSU health network. “You don’t hear about all the students that are using, having one or two drinks and it’s pretty mellow. So I think that contributes to the perception that everyone is out drinking every weekend.”

National College Health Assessment director Dr. Mary Hoban said it’s common for many students to have the perception that more peers are engaging in certain behaviors than what’s actually happening.

“It’s called the ‘social norms theory,’” Dr. Hoban said. “The idea is that students tend to overestimate the number of other students that are engaging in high risk behavior. The concern about that overestimation is that it may support students engaging in that high risk behavior themselves.”

Students seem most surprised to hear about the numbers surrounding the use of marijuana.

While the perception is that 86 percent of students are having a toke at least once a month, the actual number is far lower at about 19 percent. Fifty-eight percent of CSU students have never used marijuana at all.

“That can’t be accurate, there’s no way those numbers are true,” senior biology major Jacob Smith said.

“That’s a lie,” Hansen said. “People aren’t being honest to make themselves feel good or they think they might get in trouble if they say ‘yes.’”

Senior computer science major Ernesto Jamison said he was expecting there would be a lot of drinking and partying when he first got to campus three years ago. Looking back on his time at CSU, he said that hasn’t been the case.

“I think it’s been pretty chill,” Jamison said. “If anything I’m surprised there’s not more parties.”

He added that a lot of people’s perceptions and expectations probably come from a student’s peer group.

“If you hang out with people that drink and party, it’s going to seem like everyone is doing it, but if you’re around people that don’t then it’s going to be a lot different.”

Senior Reporter Austin Briggs can be reached at news@collegian.com