January 10th, 2018
Predictors or Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse among College Students
With the high prevalence of alcohol abuse among college students, various studies have evaluated the factors that contribute to such abuse. Such studies can be grouped into three broad spectra – those assessing the contribution of school environment, those assessing the contribution of family environment, and those assessing individual characteristics.
Studies on school environment.
One spectrum of such studies has linked college binge drinking to the school environment by focusing on institutional and contextual aspects that may influence students’ behavior at school. One of such studies for instance compared alcohol abuse rates for women attending coeducational (mixed sex) colleges and those attending women’s colleges. Although the sample size for the group that attended women’s colleges (n = 508), was significantly lower compared to the co-educational group (n = 9,624), the study found out that students at women’s colleges had significantly lower alcohol abuse cases compared to those at coeducational institutions (Dowdall, Crawford & Wechsler, 1998). For instance, the study found out that, of their respective samples, 7.51 percent of those attending women’s colleges had engaged in binge drinking for at least three times within the preceding 2 weeks of the study’s survey, compared to 17.72 percent of those attending coeducation institutions (Dowdall, Crawford & Wechsler, 1998, p. 710). In conclusion, the authors noted that the observed differences could have resulted from a more quality socialization environment offered by the women’s colleges compared to the coeducation institutions. Accordingly, they noted the need to focus interventions for reducing alcohol abuse on peer-group characteristics that could lead to reduced binge drinking. However, there exists a need to replicate this study using male participants to evaluate whether such findings are gender-specific or are applicable across board, since other studies (e.g. Knight et al., 2002; Seo & Li, 2009), have indicated the existence of gender differences in binge drinking between male and female college students.
Another study in this spectrum, evaluated how college environment, highlighted by aspects such as proportion of male students, marijuana users, black students and students with Greek affiliation, influences binge drinking behavior in college. In this study, Seo and Li (2009), used data from the National college Health Assessment (NCHA) survey, which is a survey conducted every semester by the American College Health Association (ACHA), to assess aspects such as students’ health indicators, behaviors and perceptions. The data for the study was from the 2006 spring semester, which had surveyed 94,806 students drawn from 45 private and 72 public colleges. The study by Seo and Leo (2009) however used a smaller sample size (n = 76,542 derived from 113 colleges), which was arrived at after subtracting students who failed to respond to the survey, students from four 2-year colleges, students older than 28 years, and students with missing data. The study findings indicated that college climate influenced student’s susceptibility to binge drinking. The authors arrived at such a conclusion following the finding that college-level variables (proportion of male students, proportion of students with Greek affiliation, proportion of black students and proportion of marijuana users), significantly predicted students’ alcohol abuse behavior beyond levels attributable to individual student’s factors (pp. 265 – 266).
The study by Wall, BaileyShea and McIntosh, which studied students’ alcohol abuse in a community college also noted the effect of school environment in influencing students to engage in binge drinking. The study found out that institutional characteristics (e.g. composition of students – male and race, college activities and students involvement in such activities, and living conditions at school), influenced the likelihood of students engaging in binge drinking. Further effects of drinking with respect to school characteristic were noted with regard to location of the school (e.g. urban, suburban, and rural) and size of the school. For instance, with respect to size of the school, campuses with high enrollment (10000-19999) and those with low enrollment (<2500), were noted to have significantly higher prevalence of binge drinking compared to campuses with medium enrollment levels (2,500-4,999 and 5,000-9,999) (p. 32). With respect to location, schools in urban areas had the highest number of binge drinking cases, followed by suburban schools (p. 32). A different study attributes locational effects to the neighboring communities for instance noting students in colleges at the US-Mexico border to be at a heightened risk of engaging in binge drinking compared to the national average (McKinnon, O’Rourke & Byrd, 2003)
Studies on family environment.
Another spectrum of studies accessing students susceptibility to binge drinking evaluates the family environment, specifically focusing on the family history of abusing alcohol. One of these studies was conducted by LaBrie, Savannah, Migliuri, Kenney and Lac (2010) who compared binge drinking habits between students from families with a history of alcohol abuse (FH+) and those from families without a history of binge drinking (FH-). The study used a sample of 3753 students, representing 53.6 percent of the initially randomly selected pool of 7000 students, who completed an online survey, with 35 percent of such students coming from FH+ families. From the analyses of the data collected, the authors noted that students with a FH+ background were more likely to have drank within the first year compared to those with FH- background (81% vs. 74%) (LaBrie et al., 2010, p. 722). Comparing binge drinking habits by gender, the study reported various differences between FH+ and FH- groups. For instance, among males, FH+ group had a significantly higher average drinks per week compared to the FH- group, higher negative consequences, and higher overall positive expectancies (p. 723).
Alcohol expectancies are the indications of the individual expectations of the behavior that one may exhibit under the influence of alcohol with regard to aspects such as sociability, tension reduction and sexuality (positive expectancies), and cognitive behavioral impairment, and risk and aggression (negative expectancies) (LaBrie et al., 2010, pp. 722-723). To assess the expectancies, the study by LaBrie and colleagues (2010) used the Comprehensive Effects of Alcohol (CEOA; Fromme, Stroot & Kaplan, 1993) questionnaire. The validity and reliability of CEOA questionnaire have been confirmed in other studies (e.g. Ham, Stewart, Norton & Hope, 2005).
With regard to females, the study by LaBrie et al. (2010) also noted that those from FH+ backgrounds had “significantly higher drinks per week, negative consequences, [and] overall positive expectancies …” (p. 722). With regard to positive expectancies, differences between the two groups were particularly evident with regard to sociability, tension reduction and sexuality but not for drink courage (p. 723). For both males and females, no significant differences were observed between FH+ groups and FH- groups with respect to negative expectancies (e.g. self-perception, risk and aggression and cognitive behavioral impairment). Such a finding could indicate that irrespective of the family background, the negative expectancies of binge drinkers are generally comparable.
Another study that compared alcohol drinking behaviors between children of Alcoholics (ACOAs) and those of non-alcoholics (non-ACOAs) had mixed findings on the influence of a family history of alcohol abuse. On the positive link between family history and students’ alcohol abuse, the study by Braitman et al. (2009), found out that ACOAs initiated alcohol use at earlier ages than non-ACOAs, and were more likely to be drug users compared to non-ACOAs. However, contrary to the study by LaBrie et al. (2010), ACOAs were not found to have significantly higher drinking frequency or higher binge drinking levels compared to non-ACOAs (p. 76).
Other studies evaluating the effect of family environment on students’ binge drinking behaviors have focused on aspects such as social economic status. For instance, in the study by Knight and colleagues (2002), students from families with a higher socioeconomic status, evaluated using the variable “parents graduated from college”, were less likely to engage in binge drinking compared to those from families with lower socioeconomic status. From the studies about influence of the family environment on students’ binge drinking behaviors, family environment appears to influence students’ alcohol abuse behaviors, but to a moderate extent compared to the effect of school environment.
Studies on individual characteristics.
Various studies have evaluated the susceptibility of students to binge drinking behavior based on individual characteristics such as age, gender, and race. For instance, in the study by Knight et al (2002) alcohol abusers were noted to be more likely to be male and white, but less likely to be at the age or above the age of 24 years (p. 266). In a different, Seo and Li (2009) reinforced the finding that male students were more susceptible to engaging ion binge drinking in college (p. 265). Wall et al. (2012) reinforce the finding on age-related differences in binge drinking noting the population of the binge drinkers having the highest rate to be aged between 17 and 24 years (p. 31). Additionally, Wall et al. note white males to be among the more likely group of students to engage in binge drinking, with their binge drinking rates only being surpassed by Native American males (p. 31).
Another study expounded on the effect of gender on college by assessing the influence of gender role orientation on students binge drinking habits. In this study, Peralta, Steele, Nofziger and Rickles (2010) argued that, in addition to sex (male or female), gender role orientation as depicted by masculinity traits, would predict binge drinking in college irrespective of the student’s sex. The study used a self-administered questionnaire to collect data from students in a Midwestern urban university 2007. The sample size was 422 students, with the sample demographics being representative of the overall student population at the university. To evaluate femininity and masculinity, the study employed the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) and the Personal Attributes Questionnaire (PAQ), the validities of which have been established in different studies (Spence, 1991). The study’s findings indicated that male college students were more likely to be binge drinkers compared to female college students (p. 366). Concerning gender role orientation, the study found out that students who had higher masculinity scores, irrespective of the gender, reported significantly higher frequency of binge drinking compared to those whose gender role orientation was feminine.
Other studies have also indicated the effect of gender and other individual demographic aspects in predicting alcohol abuse among college students. Although gender differences between female and male college students’ binge drinking were found to be insignificant in a study by Murphy, Hoyme, Colby and Borsari (2006), men had a greater monthly consumption of alcohol compared to women. Additionally, reinforcing the findings by Knight and Colleagues (2002), Murphy et al. (2006) found out that binge drinkers in college were likely to be white when compared with non-white students (p. 113). From the above studies, individual characteristics appear to have significant effects in influencing the susceptibility of college students to binge drinking behaviors.
Go to part four here.