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Posted 03.09.05

College Students At No Greater Risk for Dependence on Alcohol, MU Researcher Finds

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Surgeon General confirm that binge drinking among college students is a major public health problem. It is linked to 1,400 student deaths, 500,000 injuries, 600,000 assaults and 70,000 sexual assaults on college campuses each year. New research from the University of Missouri-Columbia shows that while college students tend to consume more alcohol than those not enrolled in higher education institutions, they are at no greater risk for developing alcohol dependence (alcohol dependence is the official diagnostic term that corresponds to what most people think of as "alcoholism").

"There is consistent evidence suggesting that college students drink more than their non-college attending peers," said Wendy Slutske, associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. "The goal of our research was to determine whether they were also more likely to suffer from alcohol use disorders, such as alcohol dependence or abuse, or whether there were certain consequences of drinking that they were more likely to experience."

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Slutske's research used data from the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, focusing on the 6,352 19-21 year-old college-age participants from the larger survey of 68,929 individuals. Each participant identified the frequency and quantity of their drinking on a yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily basis. Participants also reported on their frequency of binge drinking (binge drinking was defined as consuming at least 5 drinks of alcohol on one occasion).

The researcher found that college-attending young adults were drinking more on a yearly, monthly, and weekly basis, and were more commonly binge drinking each week, than their non-college-attending peers.

The college students were also significantly more likely to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder -- dependence or abuse -- than those not attending college, at 18% versus 15%, with the association stronger for women than for men.

Nevertheless, Slutske reports that there was no significant difference between the two groups in the prevalence of past-year alcohol dependence, at 6.1% for young adults attending college and 6.6% for non-students.

"The results of this study would appear to provide a somewhat more encouraging message about the consequences of college drinking than many of the recent reports," Slutske said. "Although college students suffer from some clinically-significant consequences of their 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. However, this is not to say that the binge drinking that is characteristic of many college students is not without costs. It can lead to some of the most dire consequences, such as driving while under the influence of alcohol. Such consequences do not just imperil the life of the college student, but also the lives of other passengers, and the lives of anyone else sharing the road."

Slutske's research was published the week of March 7, 2005, in the Archives of General Psychiatry, a JAMA/Archives journal.



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