College students at no greater risk of alcohol-related problems than peers

March 07, 2005

CHICAGO - Although college students had higher rates of yearly, monthly, and weekly alcohol use than their peers not attending college, they did not appear to be at a greater risk for alcohol dependence problems, according to an article in the March issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to background information in the article, binge drinking among college students has been identified as a major public health problem by the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A recent report estimated that alcohol is involved in about 1,400 student deaths, 500,000 injuries, 600,000 assaults, and 70,000 sexual assaults each year on college campuses. Other studies have generally found that, compared to their same-age peers, college students are more likely to take part in heavy and/or binge drinking.

Wendy S. Slutske, Ph.D., from the University of Missouri at Columbia, compared alcohol use disorders in young adults attending college and their peers not attending college. The researchers used data from the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), focusing on people aged 19 to 21 years. Of the 6,352 participants, 51 percent were female, 66 percent were white, 14 percent were African American, and 14 percent were Hispanic. Participants were asked about the quantity and frequency of their yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily alcohol consumption, including any binge drinking.

The researchers found that in the past year, 18 percent of U.S. college students (24 percent of men, 13 percent of women) had alcohol-related problems, compared with 15 percent of their non-college-attending peers (22 percent of men, 9 percent of women). The college students also exceeded their peers in all yearly, monthly, and weekly alcohol use, as well as weekly binge drinking, although daily drinking was more common among those not in college. Although college students were drinking more, they weren't more likely to be diagnosed with alcohol dependence.

"The results of this study provide a more encouraging message about the consequences of college drinking than many of the recent reports--although college students suffer from some clinically significant consequences of their heavy/binge drinking, they do not appear to be at greater risk than their non-college attending peers for the more pervasive syndrome of problems that is characteristic of alcohol dependence," the authors write.

(Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005; 62: 321 - 327. Available post-embargo at www.archgenpsychiatry.com)

Editor's Note: Preparation of this article was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse was sponsored by the Office of Applied Studies within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and was conducted by Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, N.C.
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For more information, contact the JAMA/Archives Media Relations Department at 312-464-JAMA (5262), or email mediarelations@jama-archives.org

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