At most colleges, campus police refer students involved in alcohol-related incidents to school officials for discipline rather than taking legal action, according to a study of 343 U.S. schools.

After such an incident, students are generally not referred to the campus health center for alcohol screening or intervention, researchers led by Debra H. Bernat from University of Maryland in College Park found.

For the study, they asked directors of campus police or security to complete a survey regarding their usual practices following serious, underage and less-serious alcohol incidents on and off campus, said Reuters.

Even for serious or underage alcohol violations, which likely reflect illegal behavior, only one-third of colleges reported consistently issuing criminal charges or a citation to the drinker.

For serious off-campus incidents, approximately 40 percent of colleges reported consistently referring students to an alcohol education program and offering counseling or treatment, compared to 16 percent for on-campus incidents, the authors report in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Larger public schools and schools located in small towns were more likely to take disciplinary action following drinking incidents than smaller private schools and those in large cities, said Reuters.

Attitude made a difference too, the authors report. Colleges that reported that student drinking was a major problem, as opposed to not a major problem, were more likely to consistently refer students involved in serious drinking incidents to the health center, said Reuters.

Low citation rates may undermine alcohol enforcement efforts by removing more severe consequences for drinking, the researchers suggest, but they acknowledge that it is still unclear what actions are best for curbing alcohol-related problems on college campuses.

One way to strategically decrease alcohol incidents on campus is to strengthen prevention enforcement measures, rather than reactionary enforcement, Saltz told Reuters Health. For example, rather than waiting for a serious injury to occur at a fraternity party and then disciplining the entire fraternity, a college could strengthen its proactive enforcement by routinely breaking up larger parties and citing the host or strengthening its traffic violation enforcement on nights and weekends, which would help prevent dangerous incidents, he said.