Four in every 10 U.S. college students binge drink, according to a survey by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, whose findings have been published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that elevates a person’s blood alcohol to 0.08 percent or above per 100g of blood. That’s equivalent to consuming four alcoholic drinks for women or five for men within a two-hour period. Binge drinking can result in numerous negative consequences for college students, including class absenteeism, subpar academic performance, unsafe sexual behaviors, damaged relationships, DUIs and other run-ins with law enforcement, attempted suicide and death.
The study findings have compelled some researchers to explore the issue further. At Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, for example, Dr. Vinayak K. Nahar and medical student Richard W. Kim are exploring predictors of responsible drinking – or abstinence from binge drinking – using a multitheory model of health behavior. Their approach involves predicting the intention of binge drinkers to change their habits and a comprehensive set of supports to curb binge drinking.
The primary investigators are Nahar, assistant professor of public health and one health at LMU’s College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Manoi Sharma, professor of behavioral health at Jackson State University and Dr. M. Allison Ford-Wade, professor of health promotion at the University of Mississippi.
“In order to change from binge drinking to drinking responsibly or abstaining,” said Nahar, “students first must be convinced of the immediate advantages to their lives when it comes to health, relationships and academic performance.”
“‘Because I said so’ is not good enough anymore,” said Kim. “You have to give them a why.” Kim is a second-year student at LMU-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Study participants also indicated that two things would be necessary for them to make a change: confidence in their ability to change and a change in their physical environment by removing themselves from drinking situations. They suggested keeping a diary or utilizing an app to help track drinking habits and monitor consumption; adopting positive behaviors such as exercise to help them avoid drinking due to emotions; and having a support network of friends and family to help them maintain responsible drinking habits.
Information gathered from the research will be used to design an intervention for physicians to counsel patients in family practice. Meanwhile, some preventions may be as simple as educating college students about the risks of binge drinking with evidence-based data. For example, responsible drinking is defined as no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, according to the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020.
“Most college-age students don’t even know how many drinks they should drink to stay within a healthy range,” Kim noted.
The study also analyzed the participants’ willingness to initiate and sustain abstinence or responsible drinking habits. It revealed that women were 38 percent more willing to make a change toward positive drinking habits than men; that 49 percent of participants were more willing to curb their habits for the long-term; and that non-White college students were 41 percent more willing to initiate responsible drinking behaviors than Whites and 96 percent more willing to sustain those habits.
“Overall this shows it is much easier to get people to take the first step to make a change, but sustaining those changes will take more thorough intervention and support,” said Nahar.