Intervention Program Effective in Reducing College Drinking

A new study found that a non-confrontational intervention program was effective in reducing drinking among high-risk college students, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported Aug. 1.

The study tracked the drinking behavior of 363 students at the University of Washington over four years. Students who reported drinking at least once per month and drank at least five drinks at one time in a one-month period were considered high-risk. In addition, students who exhibited three alcohol-related problems, such as sleeping in class, fighting, or doing poorly on an exam at least three times during the previous three years were also considered high-risk.

For the study, half of the students identified as high-risk participated in the Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS) program during their first year of college. The program includes a one-on-one assessment and a follow-up interview three months later. During the assessment and interview, students received information about alcohol and the consequences of binge drinking, and are shown how their own drinking habits compared with those of their peers.

“The tone and style was of a motivational interview,” said John S. Baer, research associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington and one of the authors of the study. “We used open-ended questions to help interviewees explore their own thoughts and feelings. We tried to facilitate their thinking about their own choices, rather than telling them what to do.”

The study also included two control groups, one comprised of high-risk drinkers and the other consisting of students randomly selected from the freshman class. Neither of the control groups took part in the interviews, but all three groups responded to annual questionnaires about their alcohol use.

At the end of the four years, researchers found that the alcohol consumption of high-risk students who took part in interviews steadily declined, while the drinking frequency of the randomly selected student group remained stable.

In addition, 43 percent of the interviewed high-risk drinkers showed a decline in alcohol-related problems, compared with 33 percent of high-risk drinkers who did not receive the intervention.

“We found the students to be quite comfortable with the interview approach once they understood that it would not be a repeat of the lectures they heard in high school, and that the interviewer would not be criticizing or judging,” said Baer.

The study, financed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is published in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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