Home  |   Subscribe  |   Resources  |   Reprints  |   Writers' Guidelines

Research Review

Studies Identify Prevention Strategies for College Drinking Problems

Alcohol-related deaths among U.S. college students rose from 1,440 deaths in 1998 to 1,825 in 2005, along with increases in heavy drinking and drunk driving, according to an article in a supplement of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.  

The special issue describes the results of a broad array of research-based programs to reduce and prevent alcohol-related problems at campuses across the country.  These studies resulted from the Rapid Response to College Drinking Problems Initiative, a grant program supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Reviewing the magnitude of the college alcohol problem, NIAAA researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government sources. They found that serious problems persist, as indicated by the increase in drinking-related accidental deaths among 18- to 24-year-old students, which resulted mainly from traffic-related incidents. In addition, the researchers found the proportion of students who reported recent heavy episodic drinking—sometimes called binge drinking, defined as five or more alcoholic drinks on any occasion in the past 30 days—rose from roughly 42% to 45%, and the proportion who admitted to drinking and driving in the past year increased from 26.5% to 29%.
Through the initiative, NIAAA scientists worked with 15 colleges facing alcohol-related crises, pairing them with five multidisciplinary teams of prevention and intervention experts. The collaboration yielded a mix of programs that showed different benefits. Examples from their findings include the following:

• Researchers at the University of Central Florida found that brief motivational interviews proved effective for high-risk drinkers seen in a busy college health clinic. Compared with a control group, students who participated in two sessions reported consuming less alcohol six months later and had fewer drinking-related problems nine months later.

• Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston developed a one-on-one counseling program for students with alcohol and drug policy violations.  Six months later, students who received the intervention were drinking less than counterparts who had not been through the program.

• Researchers at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles evaluated the long-term effectiveness of a motivational-enhancement group intervention for first-year college women. Participants consumed significantly less alcohol across 10 weeks of follow-up, but not at six-month follow-up, suggesting the need for booster sessions during the first year of college.

• Two separate studies developed programs in which colleges worked closely with their surrounding communities, using measures such as increased police patrols in problem neighborhoods and raising student awareness of their responsibilities as community residents. The studies found reductions in heavy drinking and a decrease in the number of off-campus incidents involving students.  

• Another study found that colleges have made online alcohol-policy information more available and accessible to students, parents, and other interested parties.  This shift may reflect a greater engagement of colleges and universities in the issue of drinking on campus in general, according to lead author.
— Source: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism