A January report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that the most common age group for binge drinking is between the ages of 18 and 34. New research from Penn State University Park suggests that the best way to curb that binge drinking among college students is through early intervention.

“Research shows there is a spike in alcohol-related consequences that occurs in the first few weeks of the semester, especially with college freshmen,” said researcher Michael J. Cleveland. “If you can buffer that and get beyond that point and safely navigate through that passage, you reduce the risk of later problems occurring.”

The researchers tested two methods — parent-based interventions and peer-based interventions — on incoming freshmen and found that non-drinking students who received the parent-based interventions were “unlikely to escalate to heavy drinking when surveyed again during the fall semester of their first year.”

The study also found that students who were heavy drinkers over the summer were less likely to be binge drinkers when they returned to school, whether they received peer- or parent-based intervention. There was no enhanced effect, however, if the heavy-drinking student received both interventions.

Cleveland reported that, in the summer, 8 percent of the incoming freshmen were heavy drinkers. By fall, a survey revealed that number had increased to 28 percent.

For the study, Cleveland decided to use a person-centered approach to determine students’ patterns of drinking and see how the students responded to intervention. That allowed researchers to examine how drinking patterns changed throughout the week and how interventions could be linked to students’ transitions from one “sub-group” to another:

“The sub-groups included non-drinkers, who did not report drinking alcohol at all; weekend non-bingers, who tended to only consume alcohol socially on Fridays and Saturdays; weekend bingers, who were likely to report binge drinking and getting drunk in the past month on Fridays and Saturdays; and heavy drinkers, who reported drinking every day of the week, most notably Thursdays.”

While neither intervention strategy appeared to influence the weekend drinkers, whether they were binger drinkers or non-binger drinkers, Cleveland noted, the interventions were “promising” among nondrinkers and heavy drinkers.

“From here we may be able to tailor the intervention to different types of students, identifying those students who are at different types of risk,” said Cleveland. “By figuring out a way to match the intervention to the individual, you can also maximize your resources for intervention.”

Source: Penn State

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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