Getting A Degree In Drinking
For many students at Ohio State, drinking is a part of life. For about 44 percent of those students, it’s a large part. That’s the percentage of students who fit the profile of “high-risk drinkers,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
With nearly half of college students characterized as high-risk drinkers, researchers Ada Demb and Corbin Campbell studied how binge drinking in college correlates to alcohol dependence after graduation, and how to identify problem drinkers early.
Demb, an associate professor of educational and leadership policy at Ohio State, and Campbell, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland who received her master’s degree in higher education and human affairs from Ohio State, conducted a survey of over 4,000 alumni from a large Midwestern university.
Of the 44 percent identified as high-risk drinkers, most (about 80 percent) were classified as “time-limited drinkers,” who eventually back off from the beers. The other 20 percent, however, were classified as “adult persistent drinkers,” who are less likely to graduate from their college drinking lifestyle. Demb and Campbell’s survey aimed to identify the emotional and psychological characteristics that differentiate the two groups.
The survey suggested three factors to distinguish between harmful adult drinkers (those whose drinking has an adverse affect on their lives) and high-risk drinkers (those who might be at risk for alcoholism, but are not yet alcoholics).
According to the study, “Adults whose drinking patterns are harmful appear to have felt more uncomfortable in their own skin, more isolated or alone and more guilt or remorse after drinking during college. They were also more likely to have reduced their drinking due to counseling.”
Gender is another factor related to drinking patterns. Women are found to be more likely than men to become alcohol dependent earlier in their drinking behavior, but they also tend to mature out of their drinking behavior earlier than men.
Students of both sexes interviewed by UWeekly tended to drink between 6-10 drinks in a night, though the women tended to drink heavily only one night of the week while the men drank about a six-pack a night most nights of the week.
“I don’t think it affects my life,” said OSU junior John* of his drinking. “I still go out and don’t always drink heavily. I don’t sit at home and just drink by myself.” John added that he would probably drink less after graduation because of his future work schedule as well as wanting to preserve his paycheck.
Demb and Campbell’s study suggests most students begin to grow out of their drinking behavior during junior year, when oddly enough, most students become old enough to drink legally.
Curtis Haywood, a substance abuse therapist at Ohio State’s Counseling and Consultation Services (CCS) suspected this trend because junior year is when “the responsibilities of life tend to become more vivid.” CCS is one of the services offered by Ohio State to help students cope with alcohol abuse and addiction through both individual and group therapy.
“I drink so much less this year than I did freshman or sophomore year,” said OSU junior Stacey.* “Then, I was going out almost every night and getting fall-down drunk at least two of those nights. Now, I go out once or twice a week and drink a lot less. I have too much to do between school and working to just go all the time. Next year, I know I’ll go out less because I’ll be focusing on studying and taking the LSAT.”
The study isolated no one specific characteristic among alumni to suggest post-graduation alcoholism. “Rather than look at one particular factor,” said Campbell, “I believe it is taking a holistic picture of the student by looking at multiple factors that will give you a more reliable picture of what a potential adult-persistent high-risk drinker might look like.”
Campbell continued with an example. “Someone who has a family history of alcoholism drinks to cope with personal problems and for self confidence, has had multiple consequences from drinking and has continued drinking in a high-risk manner through their senior year may be at risk for continuing problem drinking into adulthood.”
By revealing characteristics of adult-persistent drinkers, Demb and Campbell hope their research could facilitate intervention efforts.
“A lot of students think, ‘When I grow up, I’ll stop. When I graduate, I’ll stop,'” said Amanda Blake of the Ohio State Student Wellness Center. “But it’s a difficult transition to make.”
*Names have been changed