Interventions Help Shape Students’ Decisions About Drinking

Students entering college are facing many decisions about the lifestyle they will have during college. Many students transition to new habits relating to food, exercise and social activities. For some, the first weeks will introduce new opportunities to consume alcohol that will shape the patterns of drinking for their college career.

A new study from Penn State indicates that peer-based or parent-based interventions can be very effective at influencing the behaviors that develop during the first weeks of the college experience. Michael J. Cleveland, research associate at the Prevention Research Center and the Methodology Center, explains that there is a significant increase in alcohol-related behaviors during the first few weeks of college among freshmen.

Cleveland says that if freshmen participate in an intervention, they may be better equipped to navigate those first few weeks without serious incident, and establish habits that prevent later consequences.

The research team, led by Cleveland, examined two different types of intervention and the effects they had on incoming freshmen. Students were offered parent-based intervention, peer-based intervention, a combination of the two types, or no intervention at all.

Those students that did not drink before leaving for college and received the intervention that was parent-based were not likely to become heavy drinkers when they participated in a follow-up during their first semester at school.

For incoming freshmen that had been heavy drinkers over the summer prior to college began, they were less likely to continue heavy drinking habits if they participated in either peer-based intervention or parent-based intervention. For those who received a combination of both interventions, however, there was not any increased benefit.

The study, published online in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, reports that of the 8 percent, approximately 8 percent were considered to be heavy drinkers during the summer prior to college. The students were interviewed again by the researchers during the first semester. The researchers found that about 28 percent of the freshmen now met criteria for heavy drinking.

Cleveland’s research provides important information, because unlike previous studies that have focused on median levels of drinking among a sample of college freshmen, the study was much more specific. Cleveland focused on a person-centered approach that measured individuals’ patterns of alcohol consumption and their specific response to the interventions used.

The approach allowed researchers to not only track students’ transition over time, but they could also look at drinking patterns throughout a week and how those interventions affected students’ transition from one drinking behavior type to another.

The researchers identified four sub-groups from the study, including non-drinkers, weekend non-bingers, weekend bingers as well as heavy drinkers, for whom drinking occurred every day of the week.

While many of the drinkers were not affected by the intervention, there was promising effects in those who were heavy drinkers and the nondrinkers.