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Oster-Aaland, Laura; Ph.D.
Program of Education
College of Human Development and Education; North Dakota State University
December 2009

The Impact of an On-line Educational Video and a Medical Amnesty Policy on College Students’ Intentions to Seek Help in the Presence of Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms    

Major Professor: Dr. Myron Eighmy


Institutions have implemented educational programs and medical amnesty policies to reduce the risk of college student deaths due to alcohol poisoning. Medical amnesty policies promise students amnesty from campus judicial sanctions when a student calls for help due to over-consumption of alcohol. To date, there is little published evidence to suggest medical amnesty policies increase helping behavior.


This study tested the impact of an on-line alcohol poisoning video and a medical amnesty policy on students’ self-reported likelihood of seeking help when witnessing alcohol poisoning symptoms. It also explored whether or not there were differences in help-seeking by gender (male, female), drinking level (i.e. heavy vs. light drinkers), and age (i.e. students under 21 vs. students 21 and over). In addition, the impact of an on-line alcohol poisoning video and a medical amnesty policy on students; recognition of and concern for alcohol poisoning symptoms was assessed. Finally, students reported on sources of help they would most likely use if they were to seek help.


A randomly selected sample of 5,000 students was randomly assigned into four groups: comparison group (R0) and three treatment groups (R1, R2, R3). All four groups were asked to read a hypothetical scenario that involved a college student bystander who observed a drunken peer exhibiting the symptoms of alcohol poisoning. The comparison group did not receive any interventions (no medical amnesty policy, no on-line alcohol poisoning video). The treatment groups received an on-line alcohol poisoning video (R2), a medical amnesty policy (R3), or both an on-line alcohol poisoning video and a medial amnesty policy (R1). A total of 1,087 students complete the survey.


Findings showed that the medical amnesty policy and the on-line alcohol poisoning video were each independently effective in significantly increasing students’ intentions to seek help as well as when used together. When controlling for gender and drinking level the medical amnesty policy contributed most to students’ intentions to seek help. Women were significantly more likely to report intentions to seek help than were men, regardless of testament group. Students did not differ in their intentions to help by age (under age 21 vs. 21 and older). Abstainers and light drinkers were significantly more likely to report intentions to seek help than were moderate or heavy drinkers. The on-line alcohol poisoning video was effective in significantly increasing recognition of alcohol poisoning symptoms and increasing concern for three alcohol poisoning symptoms (mental confusion, vomiting, and pale skin). Finally, the students in the study reported being most likely to seek help from other students, resident assistants, or medical personnel.


This study provides evidence to support a medical amnesty policy and an on-line alcohol poisoning video as methods to increase help-seeking behavior among college students. Administrators should consider implementing medical amnesty policies and educational campaigns about alcohol poisoning, and should evaluate the effectiveness on their individual campuses. Educational efforts surrounding medical amnesty policies should be targeted to men and heavy drinkers as these individuals show the lowest likelihood of intentions to seek help.

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.

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Last Updated: Monday, November 21, 2011 11:59:43 AM