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Alcohol and Other Drugs on Campus - Frequently Asked Questions

Part I: Context

What is Caltech’s policy concerning alcohol on Campus?

Caltech’s Substance Abuse Policy, which includes abuse of alcohol, can be found here:

Why does the Institute have a policy on substance abuse?

The Caltech community, guided by the Honor Code, is founded on trust, respect, and responsibility.  These principles apply to all aspects of Caltech life, including alcohol and substance use and abuse.  The Institute has a responsibility to follow state laws governing substance use and underage drinking, and the federal mandate set forth in the Drug‐Free Schools and Communities Act Amendments of 1989.  The Institute is committed to addressing issues that impact the wellbeing of its students.  Alcohol is a persistent and special concern on college campuses, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

“Harmful and underage college drinking are significant public health problems, and they exact an enormous toll on the intellectual and social lives of students on campuses across the United States.”

Binge drinking, or heavy episodic drinking, is defined as a pattern of drinking alcohol that raises BAC (blood alcohol concentration) to .08 g/dL (approximately .075% EtOH by mass) or above.  This is typically 5 or more drinks for males and 4 or more drinks for females during a period of about two hours.

Binge drinking is particularly problematic in college communities – despite significant attention over multiple decades (NIAAA Publication No. 07‐5010 2007).  Underage students are vulnerable to peer pressure and may start drinking too much too quickly, resulting in some students becoming high‐risk drinkers early in their college careers, which can lead to substance use disorders that persist beyond graduation.  High‐risk drinking can have a negative impact on grades, behavior, personal relationships, employment, and can lead to sexual misconduct, fights, destruction of property, and dependency.  A particularly troubling linkage is between intoxication and sexual assault. In addition to the individual‐level consequences of high‐risk drinking, the community‐wide impact is also of concern.  Our goal is to minimize these negative outcomes and help all students be healthy and successful during their time at Caltech. 

How does the situation at Caltech compare with other schools?

Recent AlcoholEdu results (administered to incoming first-year students in Fall 2018) tell us that more Caltech students start or increase their alcohol consumption in the first term of freshman year than the national average.  In 2018, 61% of incoming students identified themselves as abstainers, and the national average was 36%.  However, by the middle of fall term, the number of heavy episodic drinkers among Caltech first-year students increased by a factor of 2.4 over the start of the term and the number of moderate drinkers doubled.  While drinking is observed to always increase during the first term of college, the increases reported at Caltech are a factor of 6 times higher than the national average. 

Other AlcoholEdu data for 2018:

  • 23% of first-year students (n=145) reported drinking in a high-risk way; 11% of first-year students (n=145) reported not drinking in the past two weeks, and 51% indicated not drinking in the past year.
  • The most common drinking-related high-risk behaviors for first-year Caltech students are taking shots and ‘pregaming.’
  • Students reported the most important reasons not to drink are because “I have other things to do” and “I don’t want to lose control.”
  • Of the first-year students who reported drinking within the last two weeks (n=55), 15% of these students reported being taken advantage of sexually, and 7% reported taking advantage of another person sexually. 

In terms of alcohol use rates for the entire undergraduate student population, we have data from the spring 2019 administration of the National College Health Assessment (n=389) and will continue to collect this data every two years.  Surveys prior to 2017 were conducted at inconsistent intervals and did not break out data between graduate and undergraduate populations.

In general, Caltech undergraduate students perceive that their peers use alcohol with much greater frequency than they actually do; the perception is that 94% of students used alcohol in the last 30 days. In reality, only 57.5% reported drinking during that time period.  According to the NCHA data, a third of Caltech students – higher than the national average -- are abstainers.  Students who abstain should not feel that they are alone in their choices not to drink – see the statistics below.  Caltech is working to broaden the available opportunities to socialize at events where alcohol is not the primary focus. 

Actual and perceived use of alcohol within the last 30 days:

Percent % Caltech Actual Caltech Perceived National Actual National Perceived
Never Used 27.8 4.2 24.6 4.9
Used, not last 30 days 14.7 1.6 17.0 2.2
Used 1-9 days 52.1 78.9 46.3 39.2
Used 10-29 days 5.2 13.9 11.3 40.6
Used all 30 days 0.3 1.3 0.9 13.1

When Caltech undergraduates choose to drink, many do so in a lower-risk fashion, consuming fewer than four standard drinks in a sitting. However, a substantial number report drinking in a high-risk way, with almost half of males* (48.9%) and nearly a third of females* (30.1%) consuming more than 5 standard drinks during the last party/social event they attended:

Percent % Caltech Male Caltech Female National Male National Female
4 or fewer standard drinks 47.1 67.9 54.0 69.8
5 standard drinks 9.2 10.7 10.9 11.5
6 standard drinks 8.0 7.6 8.8 7.5
7 or more standard drinks 35.6 13.7 26.3 11.2

In terms of frequency of high-risk drinking, Caltech undergraduate students who drink reported the following episodes of heavy episodic drinking (five or more drinks in a sitting) within the last two weeks:**


Percent %Caltech MaleCaltech FemaleNational MaleNational Female
n/a - don't drink39.731.033.527.5
1-2 times24.420.021.118.8
3-5 times5.
6 or more times0.

Students who drank alcohol reported experiencing the following in the last 12 months when drinking alcohol:

Percent % Caltech Male Caltech Female National Male National Female
Did something you later regretted32.6 24.7 30.5 32.1
Forgot where you were or what you did31.6 22.6 26.0 26.8
Someone had sex with me without my consent1.1 0.0 1.1 2.7
Had unprotected sex4.2 8.2 22.4 21.8
Physically injured yourself 16.8 9.6 12.2 11.9
Physically injured another person 3.2 0.0 1.5 0.8
Seriously considered suicide 8.4 4.8 4.5 3.9

In general, more Caltech students than the national average report being abstainers, although based on AlcoholEdu data from recent years, this gap is closing over time. Of the undergraduate students who choose to drink, first-year students appear to be particularly vulnerable to developing problematic drinking habits and engaging in high-risk heavy episodic drinking at rates that exceed the trends seen in national college samples. This suggests that many first-year students have access to alcohol, as well as exposure to peers who provide modeling and social norming and who set expectations around alcohol use and its role in the residential environment. We also know that roughly a third of our students are abstainers, and that many students who drink do so infrequently and not to excess. Just as there is a significant discrepancy between the perceived and actual numbers of students who drink, the perceptions of student support for alcohol and drug policies is often much lower than the actual endorsements of policies that aim to limit the negative consequences of high-risk drinking. Many students may feel unable to voice support of the policy as they believe the vast majority of their peers drink. 

 *The NCHA uses assigned sex at birth for these statistics. 

** The American College Health Association does not permit administration of the survey within 30 days of spring break, to limit skewing of data. The Caltech NCHA was conducted during the first three weeks of May 2019.

What is Caltech doing to educate students and provide support for those who need it?

Education – Caltech currently requires the web‐based Everfi AlcoholEdu and Haven (sexual misconduct prevention) programs of all incoming students.  AlcoholEdu also has an education/sanction module that can be used for students who have been found in violation of policy.  In addition, the E-Checkup To Go tools for Alcohol and Marijuana are available for any student to take confidentially, and will also be used as an individualized feedback tool for those required to complete an individualized substance use assessment (2-4 sessions) at Counseling Services.  Naj Alikhan, LMFT, the Alcohol and Drug Education and Intervention Coordinator, provides education during orientation, as well as in alcohol and drug awareness programs available to undergraduate students within the residences throughout the academic year.  In fall 2018 we implemented a new “Orange Watch” training program based on the Red Watch Band program to enable peers to intervene in dangerous or high-risk situations involving alcohol and to identify and get help for acute alcohol intoxication.

Events – Student interest in mini-grants for substance-free events has been low, but we will continue to try to involve students in creating events and activities to socialize that don’t center on parties or alcohol consumption.  Students who are interested in substance-free event planning will be identified through the AlcoholEdu program, as well as during the in-residence programs provided by Naj Alikhan.  Students can apply for mini-grants through the event registration process.

Assessment and Intervention – Intervention efforts are coordinated by Naj Alikhan, LMFT, a part‐time, confidential clinician on staff at Counseling Services.  Students may seek counseling and treatment options directly through Counseling Services.  Intervention may also be initiated by a referral after policy violation(s) or medical transport, or by recommendation for high‐risk users identified through screening at primary healthcare appointments.  Substance use assessments follow the BASICS model, are typically 2-4 sessions in length, and will include individualized feedback, discussion about students’ goals, and targeted support for students who are interested in changing their behaviors.  The clinical approach is collaborative and non‐judgmental, and the foundation of the intervention is meeting students where they are with behaviors and motivation for change, and providing accurate, relevant information to help students make informed choices. 

Community Engagement – This initiative involves administration, student support resources, residential experience staff, student leaders, and the community at large.  We will be engaged in gathering feedback at all levels, and we will work to address questions, concerns, monitor efficacy, and troubleshoot issues in a timely fashion. 

How does the Substance Abuse policy promote a safe, healthy, and respectful community?

All alcohol use carries some risk, and there is no “safe drinking” – but there are ways to lower risks and reduce risk of negative outcomes from drinking for students who choose to drink.  Some students have raised concerns about whether enforcing Caltech’s Substance Abuse policy will increase risk to students who choose to drink in private rooms.  There is no research to support that implementing basic policies that conform to state and federal laws increases the individual or community‐wide negative consequences of alcohol use.  Caltech’s policy sets reasonable expectations and enables students of legal age to possess and consume alcohol both privately as well as at registered events.  Education, intervention and enforcement of a reasonable policy all are found to be essential in minimizing high‐risk drinking and promoting a safe and healthy environment (see for a discussion of the supporting research).

High‐risk drinking (i.e. heavy episodic/binge drinking) is not typically a solitary activity, but rather one informed by peer groups or social activities.  If students are engaging in high‐risk behavior (e.g. taking shots in rapid succession, binge drinking) and require medical attention, peers need to get help right away, as outlined in our Good Samaritan Policy. 

Do we have a Good Samaritan Policy?

Yes. The Institute has a Good Samaritan Policy: (  It is the immediate obligation of those in the presence of a severely intoxicated person to seek help in the form of medical assistance.  Alcohol poisoning and mixing alcohol with other drugs is extremely serious, and can be fatal.  No student’s life should be in jeopardy because of substance use.  Alcohol intoxication requiring medical attention is considered a health issue, therefore, the primary Institute response is focused on preserving health and safety.  Disciplinary action ordinarily will occur only if other circumstances indicating a violation of Institute policy exist.  In such an instance, failure to call for assistance will be considered an especially serious violation of policy.

In addition, as set forth in Caltech's Unlawful Harassment Policy, a student who participates as a complainant or witness in an investigation of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking will not be subject to disciplinary sanctions for a violation of Caltech’s student conduct policies, including but not limited to the Substance Abuse policy, at or near the time of the incident, unless Caltech determines that the violation was egregious. 

Part II: Enforcement

What constitutes a violation of the policy?

It is against Institute Policy:

  • To use, possess, cultivate, manufacture, sell, or transfer illegal drugs (including marijuana), or illegally use other drugs or prescriptions
  • For any person under the age of 21 to consume, purchase, or possess alcohol
  • To provide any alcohol to a person under the age of 21
  • To provide any alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person
  • To be under the influence of alcohol in a public place and unable to exercise care for one's own safety or that of others
  • To sell alcoholic beverages, except under the authority of a California Alcoholic Beverage Control License
  • To operate equipment or vehicles, or work in experimental labs after consuming alcohol or drugs
  • To use or possess a false ID in order to obtain alcohol

Students living in Caltech housing should remember that it is a violation of the Resident Guide and Housing Policies:

  • To participate in drinking games, including “water pong”
  • To have an accessible shared supply of alcohol (kegs, punch bowls, etc.), or store alcohol in any common area
  • To consume any kind of alcohol in public or common areas, including courtyards, walkways, green spaces, house lounges, and dining halls, regardless of age—unless the event is registered

I am 21, and legally allowed to drink. Where can I consume and store alcohol on campus?

Students‐of‐age may not consume alcohol in common areas (anything other than a private bedroom, or the living room of a suite) except during registered events.  Spaces such as lounges, courtyards, dining rooms, kitchens, and hallways are all common areas that should be considered public, where alcohol consumption and storage is not permitted, regardless of age. 

Students who are 21 and over may store and consume alcohol in their own private bedroom; if they share that space with students who are not yet 21, they may not share the alcohol with them.  Security and residential life staff will intervene if they have reason to believe this is occurring.  Similarly, students may store and consume alcohol in the living room of a suite (e.g. Bechtel, Marks/Braun) if all occupants of that suite are 21 and over.  Students who are under the age of 21 are not permitted to consume alcohol anywhere on campus – per state law and Caltech policy. 

Despite recent changes to California law, marijuana still is a controlled substance under federal law, and therefore, the use, manufacture, distribution, cultivation, dispensation, possession, sale, purchase of or offer to sell or purchase marijuana on the Caltech campus or its offsite locations, including JPL, or as any part of its activities, continues to be prohibited.  In other words, while recreational cannabis is legal in California for adults over the age of 21, cannabis and all other illicit drug use is prohibited on the Caltech campus.  Students may not possess, distribute, or use cannabis or cannabis-infused products (including edibles, vaporized oil, wax, or other products containing THC) on campus.  Students are responsible for following the Caltech Substance Abuse Policy (  Students violating this policy will be subject to sanctions including educational programs, referral for a substance use assessment with the Alcohol and Drug Education and Intervention Coordinator, and for serious violations, permanent separation from Caltech. 

What is the role of the RAs in the enforcement of the Substance Abuse policy?

RAs remain part of the support system for students – providing advice, mentoring, and helping students access resources to resolve problems.  As part of this role, they have been asked to help students make well‐informed decisions about a range of issues.  As directed, they will document violations of all Institute policies, including the Substance Abuse policy.  The RAs are not responsible for assigning educational modules or disciplining students following a policy violation – that is the job of the Dean’s office.  However, if students are found to be engaging in risky behavior or are in violation of the policy and the situation cannot be resolved informally, the RAs may call on the RLCs or Security to help out and may refer students to the Dean’s office for further action. 

What is Security’s role in the enforcement of the Substance Abuse policy?

Security will uphold the policy and document the facts around violations.  The Deans’ office will receive this information and follow up appropriately.  Security has discretion in how they do their job and they are also an essential part of keeping the campus safe.  Security may confiscate and/or dispose of alcohol or other drugs (including paraphernalia), consistent with policy violations and the law.  They will continue to make safety the first priority and act as first responders to medical emergencies.

Security will be walking through campus and the Houses to observe and report behavior, parties, noise, etc.  If they see students drinking, you can expect that they will ask to see a Caltech ID card so they can identify people and ages.  You should be sure to carry your Caltech ID card at all times.  If students are not able to produce identification, Security may need to take pictures to ensure they have identified people properly.  Security may photograph alcohol and/or drugs in student rooms for documentation purposes.

What do I do if someone knocks on my door?

Students living in Caltech housing are required to cooperate with Institute administrators and officials, including, but not limited to Campus Security staff, RLCs, RAs, and other Institute staff, who are investigating or responding to a reported disturbance or safety or security concern in Caltech on-campus housing, and must comply with their reasonable instructions. Instructions that must be followed include opening the door to the student's residence and identifying oneself to any of these individuals when requested to do so. Violations of these requirements are subject to the following penalties and may subject the student to disciplinary sanctions.

First Incident - Meeting with RLC

Second Incident - $500 fine

Third Incident - Loss of on-campus housing

What happens if I am found responsible for a violation of the policy?

We will hold you accountable to our policies – but punishing students isn’t the goal.  The primary objectives are to keep students safe, to educate students about the impact that substance misuse can have on academics, opportunities, and physical and mental health, and to help students make thoughtful and well‐informed choices if they choose to drink.

The framework below illustrates typical responses to first, second, and third violations of the policy.  This is a flexible framework; particular incidents and cases may be handled differently, or escalate more quickly, depending on circumstances and other factors involved.  This is not a comprehensive list of every possible violation or consequence.  Repeated or even a single incident, depending on its severity, may involve substantial consequences, such as parental notification, involuntary leave and/or permanent separation.  Possession or use of a fake ID will be addressed by the CRC.

Policy ViolationFirst IncidentSecond IncidentThird Incident
Underage student in possession of alcohol

Written reminder of law and policy, tips for low risk drinking, referral to AlcoholEdu for Sanctions

Meeting and substance use assessment (2-4 sessions, at the discretion of the AOD clinician)

Meeting with dean, substance use assessment

Possession of cannabis

Written reminder of federal law and policy, referral to E-checkup To Go for Marijuana

Meeting and substance use assessment (2-4 sessions, at the discretion of the AOD clinician)

Meeting with dean, substance use assessment; more severe violations may be referred to CRC

21+ public consumption

Verbal warning/ reminder of policy

Written reminder of policy

Meeting and AlcoholEdu for Sanctions

Service of alcohol to underage students

Meeting and written reminder of law and policy

Meeting with dean, formal written warning

CRC prelim or more

High-risk incident (e.g. hospital transport,
altercation with another student, hard drugs):

Meeting with dean, referral to AOD clinician for a Substance Use Assessment. Good Samaritan policy may apply. CRC typically only if other policies are violated as well (e.g. damage to property)Possible parental notification, involuntary leave, or permanent separation from Caltech

When do I need to register an event?

If more than 15 people are present at any student gathering or event on campus when alcohol is being consumed, the event must be registered, regardless of location (private or public), and the following policies apply:

  • Professional bartenders are required, as is the presence of campus security, unless a dean grants an exception.
  • Event hosts must be 21 or over.
  • Any event at which more than 50 guests are anticipated must provide wristbands to guests who are 21 and over.

Any purchase of alcohol with Institute funds (house dues, etc.) requires prior approval by the Dean’s office.  Full student event registration procedures can be found online at:

How will the Institute continue to evaluate the current Substance Abuse policy and enforcement strategies?

Assessment of student substance use behaviors and the impact of the policy and enforcement strategies will be driven by participation in research‐based national surveys and gathering Institute‐specific data.  Two of the surveys that will enable comparison of Caltech’s efforts against national trends are the National College Health Assessment (given every two years, starting Spring 2017) and the Everfi AlcoholEdu program for incoming first-year students.  These surveys not only provide information about alcohol and other drug use, but many other dimensions of health and wellness that can be impacted by high‐risk substance use.  Institutional data including referrals to education/intervention, medical transports, number and type of incidents, including sexual assault involving alcohol and other drugs, and disciplinary actions provide additional measures that contribute to an assessment of program effectiveness.

Feedback from all students will be important in this evaluation, not just those who have accessed resources or had interventions, but also those who choose to drink moderately and responsibly, the many students who do not drink, and all who are affected by the minority percentage of community members who engage in high‐risk drinking or other substance abuse behaviors. 

If I have a question about the Substance Abuse Policy or its enforcement, who should I contact?

You may address questions to any of the undergraduate deans or a member of the Residential Experience staff.

I’ve read through these FAQs. Can you summarize what I need to know about Caltech’s Substance Abuse policy with respect to undergraduate residential life?

Caltech is committed to providing students with a safe, healthy, and productive academic and living environment. Caltech's approach to preventing the abuse of alcohol and other drugs includes educating students regarding the medical and psychological hazards of abuse and to increase student sensitivity to the ways in which alcohol and substance abuse interfere with personal development, and with the rights and privileges of others. Students are required to comply with the following policies and guidelines.

  • Consistent with the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act Amendments of 1989, Caltech maintains an academic and residential environment free from drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Individual students are responsible for their own conduct, and for complying with state and federal laws as well as Institute policy and the Honor Code.

Students may not:

  • Use, possess, cultivate, manufacture, sell or transfer illegal drugs (including marijuana), or illegally use other drugs or prescriptions.
  • Consume, possess or purchase alcohol if they are under 21.
  • Provide alcohol to anyone under 21.
  • Provide alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person.
  • Operate equipment or vehicles, or work in experimental labs, while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
  • Participate in drinking games, including “water pong.”
  • Have an accessible shared supply of alcohol (kegs, etc.) or store alcohol in common areas.
  • Consume alcohol in public or common areas, including kitchens, courtyards, walkways, green spaces, house lounges, and dining halls, regardless of age—unless the event is registered. 

  • Alcohol may be consumed and stored in the private bedrooms of individuals who are over the age of 21, by individuals who are over the age of 21. If that space is shared by someone who is under 21, the owner of the alcohol is responsible for making certain it is not shared with them. 
  • Alcohol may be consumed in suite living areas (e.g. Bechtel, Marks/Braun) by individuals who are over the age of 21, but NOT stored there, unless all residents are 21.
  • Any purchase of alcohol with Institute funds (house dues, etc.) requires prior approval by the Dean’s office.

If more than 15 people are present at any student gathering or event on campus when alcohol is being consumed, the event must be registered, regardless of location (private or public), and the following policies apply: 

  • Professional bartenders are required, as is the presence of campus security, unless a dean grants an exception.
  • Event hosts must be 21 or over.
  • Any event at which more than 50 guests are anticipated must provide wristbands to guests who are 21 and over.

Sanctions for violations of these policies may include:

  • Verbal and written warnings.
  • Education, counseling, or community service.
  • Removal from leadership positions, or suspension of other social privileges
  • Removal from Caltech housing.
  • Suspension or permanent separation from Caltech.

Students are responsible for reading and understanding Caltech’s alcohol and substance abuse policy, which can be found here:

The Resident Guide and Housing Policies has additional information, and can be found here:  

Information about alcohol and undergraduate event registration can be found here: