Drinking Likelihood, Alcohol Problems, and Peer Influence Among First-Year College Students

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1 The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 34: , 2008 Copyright Informa Healthcare USA, Inc. ISSN: print / online DOI: / Drinking Likelihood, Alcohol Problems, and Peer Influence Among First-Year College Students Laura L. Talbott, Ph.D., 1,2 Ryan J. Martin, M.S., 3 Stuart L. Usdan, Ph.D., 3 James D. Leeper, Ph.D., 4 M Rénee Umstattd, Ph.D., 3 Jennifer L. Cremeens, M.S.P.H., 3 and Brian F. Geiger, Ed.D. 1,2 1 School of Education, Department of Human Studies, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, USA 2 Center for Educational Accountability, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, USA 3 College of Health and Environmental Sciences, Department of Health Science, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA 4 College of Community Health Sciences, Department of Community and Rural Medicine, University of Alabama. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA Abstract: Excessive alcohol consumption is a predominant health concern on college campuses in the United States. A stepwise multiple regression analysis was used to examine the predictive values of demographic factors in relation to alcohol subscales (Drinking Context Scale, College Alcohol Problems Scale-revised, and Social Modeling Scale) with the outcome of number of drinking days in the past 30 days among a sample (n = 224) of first-year college students. The final model predicted 37.5% of the variability in drinking days in the past month. All variables, except for race, were significantly associated with the outcome (p <.05). Keywords: College alcohol, alcohol problems, freshman, peer influence INTRODUCTION Approximately 80% of college students report drinking during their lifetime, and 70% reported drinking during the past 30 days (1). The 1999 Harvard College Alcohol Survey found that binge drinking was accompanied by educational difficulties, psychosocial problems, antisocial behaviors, injuries, alcohol poisoning, high-risk sexual behaviors, and alcohol-impaired driving (2). Annually, Address correspondence to Laura L. Talbott, Ph.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham, School of Education, Department of Human Studies, th Street South, Birmingham, AL

2 434 L. L. Talbott et al. over one-half million students are involved in unintentional alcohol-related injuries. Mortality is also a public health concern, as approximately 1400 college students are killed each year as a result of drinking and driving accidents (3). For first-year college students, the transitional semester from high school to college is marked by escalated risk-taking, including alcohol consumption. National trends indicate freshmen consume an average of 5.26 drinks weekly (7.39 drinks for men, 3.86 drinks for women) (4). The mean number of drinks consumed by first-year college students meeting the criteria for heavy drinking in the previous two weeks was 9.0 (4). Increased use of alcohol is related to adaptations to new social settings and physical environments. College freshmen must establish healthy interpersonal relationships, adjust to a shared residence, and conform to standards of academic performance (5). Professional literature indicates the critical importance of the first six weeks of the freshmen year to future academic success; however, retention rates are negatively impacted by transitional difficulties related to excessive alcohol consumption. Approximately 1 of every 3 first-year students withdraws from college by the end of the second term (6). Factors such as gender, race, and Greek fraternity/sorority affiliation impact the rates of alcohol use among first-year students. National trends indicate that male students more often consume alcohol in greater quantities as compared to their female peers. Additionally, research studies suggest negative consequences of alcohol are more frequent among males (7 9). Four national studies indicate that Caucasian college students report the heaviest rates of drinking, followed by moderate drinking rates among Hispanic and African-American students. However, Asian students consume the least amount of alcohol (1). Additionally, first-year students that elect fraternity/sorority participation are more likely to engage in drinking behaviors as a means of socialization and camaraderie. This participation is a product of large-scale events where alcohol is served to the students through the formation of relationships with accessible providers of alcohol who are of legal drinking age (10 12). Thus, first-year students seeking fraternity/sorority affiliation may adopt attitudes, expectations, and subsequently conform to organizational-specific social norms involving alcohol, to further defining their place in the campus culture (13). This article describes an investigation into factors associated with increased drinking behavior among first-year college students. The results will be useful to health researchers, campus health educators, and student affairs personnel responsible for planning and implementing targeted interventions. METHODS Instrument The Freshmen Center Survey (FCS) is a 29-item questionnaire that assesses first-year student demographics, self-reported frequency and quantity of alcohol

3 Drinking Days Correlates 435 consumption, social context for drinking, peer influences on drinking behaviors, and frequency of alcohol-related problems. Sample Participant eligibility was determined by enrollment status (freshman who had completed 30 or fewer academic credits), and residence in a campus dormitory. Data were derived from 436 first-year student respondents attending a large public university in the southeastern United States who had consumed alcohol during the previous month. With these inclusionary criteria approved by the Institutional Review Board, 224 (51.2%) of freshmen respondents were included in the regression analysis. Variables The variable drinking days in the past 30 days was a continuous variable derived from the FCS. Respondents indicated the number of drinking days during the past month (range: 1 30). Demographic variables included gender (female = 1, male = 2), race (Caucasian = 0, African-American = 1), and Greek-affiliation (no = 0, yes = 1). The drinking likelihood variable was derived from summed student responses to the Drinking Context Scale (DCS) (14). The DCS has been validated for use with college student populations and is designed to assess the perceived likelihood that a college student would consume excessive amounts of alcohol attending one of the following social situations: (a) at a party; (b) at a concert or other public event; (c) when celebrating something important; (d) when one has had a fight with someone close to them; (e) when feeling sad, depressed or discouraged; (f) when angry with oneself or others; (g) when with one s lover; (h) on a date; or (i) before sex. Participants chose from five response options to indicate perceived likelihood of excessive drinking within each context (extremely low, low, moderate, high, and extremely high). In this analysis, the drinking likelihood sum score was positively correlated with student reports of excessive alcohol consumption and ranged between The alcohol problems variable resulted from summed student responses to the 8-item College Alcohol Problem Scale Revised (CAPS-r) (15). The CAPS-r is designed to assess the frequency in which college students experience problems associated with alcohol use, and has shown strong psychometric properties when administered to college student populations. These problems included (a) feeling sad, lonely, or depressed; (b) nervousness or irritability; (c) felt bad about oneself; (d) problems with appetite and/or sleeping; (e) engaging in unplanned sexual activity; (f) driving under the influence; (g) engaging in unsafe sex; and (h) illegal activities associated with drug use. Participants had the following response options in regard to their frequency of experiencing

4 436 L. L. Talbott et al. each of the alcohol-related problems in the past month (never; yes, but not in the past year; 1-2 times; 3 5 times; 6 9 times; and 10 or more times). In this analysis, the alcohol problems sum score was positively correlated with number of drinking problems experienced and ranged between The peer influence variable derived from the Social Modeling Scale assessed the respondent s close friend s behavior and subsequent influence on alcohol consumption (16). Three items were used to determine one s level of peer influence and included (a) number of close friends who drink alcohol; (b) number of close friends who get drunk on a regular basis; and (c) number of close friends who drink primarily to get drunk. Respondents had the following options to provide the proportion of their close friends engaging in the aforementioned drinking behaviors (none, some, half, most, and nearly all). In the present analysis, peer influence resulted from a sum score of three items and was positively correlated with the drinking behavior of the close friends, with responses ranging between Analysis A block method forward stepwise multiple regression procedure was preformed using SPSS Version First, the categorical variables gender, race, and Greek affiliation were entered into the model. Next, the forward stepwise procedure determined whether the variables drinking likelihood, alcohol problems, and peer influence were significant predictors in the model of days when alcohol was consumed in the past month, when controlling for gender, race, and Greek affiliation. The stepwise procedure found all three predictor variables to be significant (p <.05). Therefore, the final multiple regression model included gender, race, Greek affiliation, drinking likelihood, peer influence, and alcohol problems as predictors of drinking days during the past month among first-year college students. RESULTS Descriptive Statistics A total of 224 first-year students who consumed alcohol were included in the analysis. The majority of participants were female (70.5%), Caucasian (79.3%), and not affiliated with a Greek organization (78%). The mean number of drinking days in the past 30 days for the entire sample was 6.16 (SD = 4.86). In regards to gender, the reported number of drinking days in the past month was higher for male students ( x = 7.99, SD = 5.84) than for female students (M = 5.39, SD = 4.1). Regarding race, Caucasian students reported twice as many drinking days in the past 30 days ( x = 6.87, SD = 4.95) in comparison

5 Drinking Days Correlates 437 Table 1. Correlations of drinking days, demographic factors, and alcohol-related subscales Indicator Variables Drinking Days in Greek Drinking Alcohol Peer the Past 30 Days Gender Race Affiliation Likelihood Problems Influence Gender.257 Race Greek Affiliation Drinking Likelihood Alcohol Problems Peer Influence Correlations were significant at p<.001. Correlations were significant at p<.05. to African-American peers ( x = 3.45, SD = 3.25). First-year students electing Greek affiliation reported a greater number of drinking days in the past month ( x = 8.01, SD = 5.05) when compared to non-greek affiliates ( x = 5.64, SD = 4.67). The mean scores for independent variables were as follows: drinking likelihood ( x = 18.5, SD = 5.96); alcohol problems ( x = 12.67, SD = 5.39); and peer influence ( x = 7.43, SD = 3.21). Further, the three demographic variables and predictor variables were significantly correlated with the outcome variable (drinking days in the past 30 days), when examined independently, as indicated by Table 1. Multivariate Statistics A block method forward stepwise procedure was performed to examine drinking days in the past 30 days among first-year college student drinkers. The variables of gender, race, and Greek affiliation were initially entered into the regression model. All three variables were significant at a probability of <.05 and predicted 15.7% (R 2 =.157) of the variance in days when alcohol was consumed in the past month. Next, drinking likelihood, alcohol problems, and peer influence met criteria for inclusion in the model. Drinking likelihood had the largest significant partial correlation (.437, p <.001), and therefore was the next variable included in the regression model. The inclusion of drinking likelihood increased the model s R 2 to.318 (+.161) and decreased the significance of the variable race in the model (p=.116). Of the remaining variables, peer influence had the largest significant partial correlation (.254, p <.001) and was the next variable included in the

6 438 L. L. Talbott et al. Table 2. Linear regression with drinking days in the past 30 days as dependent variable Unstandardized Coefficient Beta t p Gender Race Greek Affiliation Drinking Likelihood Peer Influence Alcohol Problems regression model. The inclusion of peer influence increased the model s R 2 to.362 (+.044) and further decreased the significance of race in the model (p =.457). The last remaining variable, alcohol problems, had a significant partial correlation (.143, p =.034) and was included in the fourth and final model. The inclusion of alcohol problems increased the model s R 2 to.375 (+.013). The final model examining drinking in the past 30 days among first-year college students included gender, Greek affiliation, drinking likelihood, peer influence, and alcohol problems as significant correlates (p <.05), as indicated in Table 2. Race was not significant after drinking likelihood, alcohol problems, and peer influence were added to the regression model. However, researchers retained Race in the final model because it was significantly univariately correlated with the outcome variable. The final model indicates that male students or students (male or female) who belong to a Greek organization were significantly more likely to consume alcohol than their counterparts. The regression model also indicates that students perceived likelihood of drinking in various social contexts, perception of heavy drinking among friends, and alcohol-related problems are all positively associated with the number of days spent drinking during the previous month. The results of this study are consistent with previous first-year student research, in that male students report a greater frequency of alcohol consumption and more alcohol-related problems (7 9). Male students are also more likely to indicate that peers influence drinking behavior in numerous social settings, and report a grater likelihood of fraternity association. DISCUSSION The final model appears to be useful in examining the number of drinking days in the past 30 days among first-year college student drinkers. Drinking likelihood, one of the significant predictor variables in this model, is subjective and potentially modifiable. The model states that less favorable perceptions toward excessive alcohol use in various social settings will lead to a reduction

7 Drinking Days Correlates 439 in drinking days. It may be advantageous for researchers and practitioners with an interest in decreasing drinking days to innovatively address first-year college student perceptions and/or misperceptions regarding alcohol use prior to matriculation or soon after arrival on campus. Emulation of alcohol consumption and peer behavioral influence, experienced by first-year students during the transitional semester to college poses a barrier to the development of targeted interventions by college health professionals. The model indicates that firstyear male college students in general and Greek affiliated students (both male and female) have participated in a significantly greater number of drinking days in the past month. It may be advantageous to tailor intervention efforts strongly toward freshman males, especially those that are members of or are considering joining a fraternity. Thus, early identification of at-risk first-year student clusters should be explored as innovative intervention strategies evolve, with intuitional messages tailored specifically to populations in immediate transition. One interesting aspect of this analysis is that race was not significant in the multiple regression model predicting drinking days. Because race was significantly univariately correlated with drinking days, our future research will explore why race was mitigated within this multivariate model. One possible explanation, and a limitation to this research, is the relatively small number of African Americans (n = 47) and males (n = 67) in the sample. In addition, this research was limited by a relatively small number of Greek-affiliated students (n= 50). However, these proportions of African American and Greek-affiliated students are representative of this and most college campuses of this size and region of the country. The impact of race in the model may also have been impacted by multicolinearity issues, as race was significantly associated with all other independent and demographic variables in this analysis. Self-reported data are another potential limitation to these findings. Although the survey instruments were coded to ensure confidentiality, some students may have been hesitant to reveal the extent of their drinking behavior. In addition, because the participants were first-year college students, of which many were under the legal drinking age, they may have been less inclined to reveal such behavior. However, participants were made aware that responses were confidential and in no way impacted their standing with the university, be disclosed to law enforcement, or shared with parents/guardians. Future research should focus on the number of reported drinking days in diverse firstyear college student populations, students attending commuter campuses, and the development of intervention efforts tailored to reduce alcohol consumption among at-risk peer clusters. ACKNOWLEDGMENT This study was supported by a grant (USC-R ) from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Columbia, South Carolina (Dr. L. Talbott).

8 440 L. L. Talbott et al. REFERENCES 1. O Malley P, Johnston L. Epidemiology of alcohol and other drug use among American college students. J Stud Alcohol 2002; 63(suppl 14): Wechsler H, Lee J, Kuo M, Lee H. College binge drinking in the 1990s: A continuing problem. Results of the Harvard School of Public Health 1999 College Alcohol Study. J Am Coll Health 2000; 48(5): Hingson R, Heeren T, Winter M, Wechsler H. Magnitude of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18 24: Changes from 1998 to Annu Rev Public Health 2005; 26: Core Institute. Alcohol and Other Drug Use on American Campuses: Recent Statistics. Available at: html/results use.htm. Accessed June 7, Schulenberg J, Maggs J. A developmental perspective on alcohol use and heavy drinking during adolescence and the transition to adulthood. J Stud Alcohol 2002; 63(suppl 14): Upcraft M. Today s first-year students and alcohol. Paper prepared for the Task Force on College Drinking, National Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, MD, Read JP, Wood MD, Davidoff O, McLacken J, Campbell J. Making the transition from high school to college: The role of alcohol-related social influence factors in students drinking. Subst Abuse 2002; 23(1): Humara MJ, Sherman MF. Situational determinants of alcohol abuse among young Caucasian and African American college students. Addict Behav 1999; 24: Perkins HW. Gender patterns in consequences of collegiate alcohol abuse. J Stud Alcohol 1992; 53: Larimer ME, Irvine DL, Kilmer JR, Marlatt GA. College drinking and Greek system: Examining the role of perceived norms for high-risk behavior. J Coll Stud Dev 1997; 38: Kellogg K. Binge drinking on college campuses. Clearing House on Higher Education, George Washington University, Washington, DC: Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Wechsler H, Kuh G, Davenport A. Fraternities, sororities and binge drinking: Results from a national study of American colleges. National Association of Student Personnel Administrators J 1996; 33(4): Alva SA. Self-reported alcohol use of college fraternity and sorority members. J Coll Stud Dev 1998; 39(1): O Hare T. The drinking context scale: A confirmatory factor analysis. J Subst Abuse Treat 2001; 20: Maddock JE, Laforge RG, Rossi JS, O Hare T. The college alcohol problems scale. Addict Behav 2001; 26: Wood MD, Read JP, Palfai TP, Stevenson JF. Social influence processes and college student drinking: The mediational role of alcohol outcome expectancies. J Stud Alcohol 2001; 62: SPSS, version Applications guide and computer software. Chicago, 2006.

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