College Alcohol Consumption Reduced With Interventions
Most college students drink alcohol on a regular basis, and public health officials are well aware that college drinking leads to serious harms for hundreds of thousands of people each year. In a large-scale review published in 2014 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers from two U.S. institutions assessed the effectiveness of the various interventions used to curb alcohol consumption among college freshmen. These researchers concluded that no one type of alcohol intervention has a universal impact on all students; still, many specific types of intervention do successfully address key aspects of the problem, either on their own or in combination with other interventions.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 80 percent of all college students consume alcohol; about half of these drinkers engage at least occasionally in binge drinking, which by definition produces the rapid, impairing onset of drunkenness. Although many students entering college have already established a pattern of alcohol intake, consumption levels typically surge during freshman year. Factors that likely account for this increase in consumption include a longstanding social tradition that connects college attendance with drinking, a desire on the part of incoming freshmen to fit into their new social surroundings, the use of drinking as a coping mechanism to offset the stresses of leaving home and adapting to a new environment, and a general tendency among teenagers and young adults to probe the boundaries of acceptable behavior.
Types of Intervention
Public health officials and college administrators have a variety of available options when conducting alcohol interventions on college campuses. One approach, called personalized feedback, attempts to curb drinking by encouraging students to contemplate such things as how much they drink overall, how much they drink in comparison to their social group, how much they spend on alcohol purchases and how much their drinking behaviors put them at risk for serious alcohol-related harms. Another approach is designed to challenge the expectations that college students commonly hold about the benefits of consuming alcohol by grounding those expectations in the reality of the known negative consequences of excessive drinking. Some anti-drinking campaigns rely on only one type of alcohol intervention. However, interventions don’t generally conflict with one another, and public health officials and administrators can combine several approaches for any targeted or campus-wide campaigns they undertake.
In the study review published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers from Brown University and The Miriam Hospital took a look at 41 previous studies designed to assess the effectiveness of alcohol interventions targeted at freshmen on college campuses in the U.S. All told, these studies included 62 intervention approaches which were used either separately or in various combinations. The researchers used two criteria to judge the usefulness of the included interventions: a reduction in alcohol intake in intervention recipients and a reduction in the harms associated with alcohol consumption.
After completing their review, the researchers found that alcohol interventions do help significantly reduce the amount of alcohol consumed by college freshmen, as well as the level of harm caused by drinking. The single intervention with the best results is personalized feedback. However, no one intervention works in all cases and the greatest decreases in drinking and drinking-related harm come from the use of multiple intervention approaches. This is true because overlapping interventions successfully address different aspects of the factors that contribute to alcohol use.
The authors of the study recommend the use of a specific combination of alcohol interventions for curbing drinking and related problems in college freshmen. These interventions are personalized feedback, encouragement of more moderate levels of average alcohol consumption, improvement of the ability to recognize highly dangerous drinking situations and the use of targeted goals for drinking reduction. The authors also recommend that all incoming freshmen at U.S. colleges and universities go through a screening for drinking-related risks upon beginning school, in addition to recommending that college administrators provide effective, multiple approaches to alcohol intervention for freshmen identified as at risk for problems. The study’s authors note that most alcohol interventions produce only a modest effect. However, this effect is typically enough to significantly influence the overall drinking behaviors of most college students. This is true because most students tend to consume alcohol in relatively moderate amounts, not excessively high amounts.