Study Offers Best Alcohol Interventions in College

Stressing harm reduction appears to be effective

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WEDNESDAY, June 16, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Promoting strategies such as drinking less or picking a designated driver, rather than urging total abstinence, is more effective when dealing with college students mandated to take part in alcohol interventions, a new study says.

Along with promoting these types of "harm reduction" strategies, providing students with an opportunity to discuss alcohol-related information in a non-judgmental format can also help reduce their use of alcohol, the researchers found.

"Harm-reduction approaches make a great deal of sense in both college-student populations generally and with mandated students more specifically," researcher Mark Wood, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island, said in a prepared statement. The work appears in the June issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The research also found that college students at high risk for alcohol-related problems seem to derive great benefit from motivational intervention, in conjunction with follow-up "booster sessions."

Targeting the social network of the students may also help to change their drinking behaviors and perceptions.

"College students typically drink in social situations with friends and roommates," researcher Tracy O'Leary Tevyaw said in a prepared statement.

"Mandated students drink on average more than students who are not mandated. However, mandated students typically report that their friends drink as much or more than they do," Tevyaw explained.

"Their perceptions about what constitutes 'normative drinking' are influenced by having peers who also drink heavily. If we can effect changes in these perceptions, as well as in the student's social network by offering a targeted intervention to their heavy drinking peers -- many of whose drinking is occurring under the radar -- we might see enhanced short- and long-term outcomes," she said.

Peer-directed targeted and universal intervention sessions may also prove effective, the researchers found.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has information about the consequences of college drinking.

SOURCE: University of Rhode Island news release, June 14, 2004

- Robert Preidt

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