Mother and teen conversations can prevent harmful college drinking behavior, say researchers

December 16, 2000

Binge-drinking major concern on college campuses

WASHINGTON -- Simple mother and teen conversations like, "My mom and I have talked about how drinking can get me into trouble and is bad for my health," were helpful in preventing binge-drinking in college freshmen, according to the results of a new study.

This study, appearing in the December issue of the American Psychological Association's (APA) journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, examines whether talking about the consequences of drinking affects a young person's attitudes about drinking and actual drinking behavior. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism funded this study.

Psychologist Rob Turrisi, Ph.D., of Boise State University and colleagues surveyed 266 incoming freshmen from a northwestern university on their binge-drinking tendencies, consequences, beliefs and mother-teen communication 30-50 days after the beginning of the fall semester. The students were asked to agree or disagree on a continuum of reasons they choose to drink or not to drink.

The most common reasons for students to drink alcohol were "it was a nice way to celebrate special occasions" or "it made it easier to talk to people." The students also drank to enhance their social behaviors ("I tend to drink when my friends are drinking; I doubt I will get caught driving drunk"). Students also knew about the negative affects of alcohol. "Drinking alcohol can result in negative changes in my personality and can make me irritable." Other concerns were that alcohol interfered with a healthy lifestyle and those who drank were considered "cool" by their peers.

The students were also asked how much they talked with their mothers before going to college about drinking. Communication between the students and mothers involved the importance of being committed to a healthy lifestyle and how being caught drinking would be embarrassing to the student and his/her family, said the authors.

Students who held more positive beliefs regarding alcohol's effect on positive outcomes and enhancement of social behaviors were more apt to drink excessively and experience the negative consequences associated with binge-drinking tendencies (black-outs, regretting a sexual situation, having a hangover) compared to students with less positive beliefs.

"This study affirms the importance of mother-teen communication and teen beliefs about drinking, and especially about binge-drinking consequences," says Dr. Turrisi. "We were impressed with the consistency with which mother-teen communications influenced the 'beliefs' that prevented the experience of the negative consequences associated with binge-drinking. Furthermore, interventions that attempt to increase such communications and beliefs in college students have the potential for reducing binge-drinking related consequences."

Previous efforts to reduce consequences have focused on trying to change drinking habits, said Dr. Turrisi, but the relationship between drinking consequences is not one-to-one. "There are many individuals who drink but do not get into trouble. So who are the ones at risk? Our findings suggest it is the ones with certain beliefs and that is where mother-teen communication can really play a role in changing those beliefs."
Article: "Binge-Drinking-Related Consequences in College Students: Role of Drinking Beliefs and Mother-Teen Communications," Rob Turrisi, Ph.D., Boise State University; Kimberly A. Wiersma, B.A., University of Washington; Kelli K. Hughes, B.A., University of Texas at San Antonio; Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Vol. 14, No. 4.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at

Rob Turrisi, Ph.D., can be reached by telephone at (208) 426-1901 or by email at

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 159,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 59 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

American Psychological Association

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