Yale Center of Alcohol Studies Investigates Drinking Habits of Carefree Undergraduates

Find College Life Affects Drinking Little; Habits Acquired Earlier

The carpet of glass covering the Old Campus and the general alcoholic haze emanating from the fraternity area notwithstanding, Yale is the only university in the United States where everybody asked the location of the Center of Alcohol Studies gives the same directions.

At any other school the inquirer would get a different answer every time he asked the question, but at Yale he is invariably sent to a reconverted mansion on Hillhouse Ayenue, right across the street from the home of President A. Whitney Griswold.

The Yale Center of Alcohol Studies sits unobtrusively without any identification--squat but spacious like a bottle of Ballantine's scotch. Undoubtedly built in the 19th century, its four stories have mahogany-toned woodwork and a faded coat of yellow paint, which partially conceals stone, stucco, or something.

Inside, the tone is of serious, diligent endeavor; and one realizes that the day will not be distant when Yale will know as much about John Barleycorn as it does about James Boswell.

Alcohol research at Yale is nothing new. In 1930 the scientists at the Yale Laboratory of Applied Physiology began to specialize in the study of alcohol and its effect upon the human body. They were pioneers and faced the added task of cutting through a forest of fallacy.


The staff saw immediately that physiology was but one approach and that there was a great need for a clearing house of scientific information on the subject. As Selden D. Bacon, Director of the Center and a Yale professor of Sociology, states, "Alcohol cuts across almost every field of human knowledge. Sociology, literature, chemistry, economics, anthropology--to mention only a few--are all concerned at one time or another with the use and effects of alcohol."

Hence by 1942 a physician, a psychiatrist, a statistician, a psychologist, a sociologist, a lawyer, and an economist had been added to the permanent staff. By then, the Center of Alcohol Studies had become a distinct unit of the Yale Laboratory of Applied Physiology.

But from Yale it receives only a building and a token budget. The remainder of its financial support comes from individuals, federal and state agencies, industrial firms, and national foundations.

Using these resources the Center among other projects held for the last ten years a four-week Summer School of Alcohol Studies, compiled a master bibliography of literature on the subject, and established the Yale Plan Clinic for practical rehabilitation of the alcoholic.

Invented Alcomoter

Its associate director, Leon A. Greenberg, invented the Alcometer, a portable automatic laboratory which determines the amount of alcohol a person has consumed. The police can now easily distinguish between the man who should be prosecuted for drunkenness and the man who appears to be inebriated but is actually suffering from sober shock and should be rushed to the hospital.

In 1940 the Center began a special program of publication. Its myriad volumes and journals have complete documentation and absolutely no bias. The publications speak scientifically and sanely, thus incurring the wrath both of the old temperance people, who prefer the fanatical scream, and of the alcohol distributors, for whom even a whisper is too loud.

But if these facets of activity are important, Director Bacon still declares that "research is the core of our program." The Center's list of projects is endless; it is currently studying the significance of alcohol in criminal behavior of various types, the role of alcohol as a medicine for heart and emotional disturbances, drinking patterns of Americans of Italian descent, and the histories of patients in alcoholism clinics.

And these are just about a third of the contemporary interests of the Center, which is currently best-known for its college drinking survey. The staff considers this student research of particular significance, because "it may present a major tool for the conquest of alcoholism, for it will allow follow-up research on individuals first studied at the beginning of their drinking history."

The five-year study culminated in the publication last October of the now well-known book, Drinking in College; the volume brought unprecedented publicity to the Center and to the authors, Bacon and Robert Straus, a former sociologist at Yale and now a member of the faculty of the College of Medicine, Syracuse, New York.