October 1st, 2010

College drinking: study findings promote motivational intervention

Drinking on campus has become an integral part of the college experience for some. But consider some statistics released by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): approximately 1,800 college students die each year from alcohol-related accidents; nearly 600,000 students suffer injuries directly associated to alcohol use; around 700,000 students are assaulted by others who have been drinking, and about 97,000 students are victims of date rape or sex where alcohol is a factor.

The June 2010 issue of The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology published findings from a trial conducted by Mark Wood, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island, which offers some insight and concrete suggestions to help combat campus drinking. This randomized, controlled trial included both students who drink and those who don’t. He notes that the study design provided the “strongest evidence” to support the findings. “Some of the best effects came with the non-drinkers,” he says, adding that 84 percent of the subjects were still involved in the study at the 22-month follow up.

Wood’s study posits that a brief motivational interview (BMI) produces the most favorable results. “The BMI is significantly associated with a decrease into transitions into drinking and reduced transitions into heavy drinking,” says Wood. “It also reduced the rates of negative experiences of any kind. It was the most successful aspect of the study.”

To help reduce the incidence of irresponsible college drinking and its negative consequences, Wood suggests taking an “environmental approach,” such as launching a communication campaign. In this way, schools can “underscore, particularly with parents, and raise awareness of the scope of the problem.” He says, “It could have a wide ranging impact.”

Wood recommends that colleges collaborate with local communities and police to increase enforcement of the minimum legal drinking age. “We should also work with the hospitality industry to train responsible beverage servers to not serve people who are intoxicated,” he says.

And contrary to popular belief, Wood ascertains that parents continue to influence their child’s drinking behavior late into adolescence and should encourage accountability. “Parents represent a group who have understanding, particularly if they are college-educated themselves. They view [college] as a ‘cultural time out’ with regard to responsibilities,” he says. “We need to make parents aware that this is not a rite of passage. Parents can make a difference by emphasizing more responsible use.” He advises parents to underline education as the primary role of the college experience in preparation for their child’s next phase of life.

While efforts have been made to curtail drinking at the college level, Wood hopes to bring awareness to the high school population as well. “Most students begin drinking at 15. If we educate sooner, we’ll see an impact sooner,” he says.

In a 2002 report, the NIAAA Task Force on College Drinking made specific suggestions to colleges that would help reduce the incidence of drinking on campus, many of which reflect Wood’s recommendations. He notes, however, that many colleges have ignored these suggested interventions.

By Phyllis Hanlon

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