Readiness to Change, Social Norms, and Alcohol Involvement among College Students

By Lewis, Todd F. | Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Readiness to Change, Social Norms, and Alcohol Involvement among College Students


Lewis, Todd F., Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling


The author explored the impact that readiness to change variables have on dimensions of alcohol involvement and how the explanatory power of the variables compares with social norms among college students. Canonical analysis suggested that alcohol intensity and drinking consequences were best explained by the norms for closest friends and contemplation about one's drinking.

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In the United States, alcohol abuse on college campuses has come under increasing attack (Thombs & Briddick, 2000). The growing concern about this issue can be gauged by the national news media coverage of heavy episodic drinking, property destruction and vandalism, and alcohol-related fatalities (e.g., Rivera, 2000 ["Smashed: Kids and Alcohol"]). Recent developments in government, higher education, and the public health community have led to greater public awareness and policies to address the problem (Thombs & Biddick, 2000). For example, in 1998 the U.S. Congress passed legislation that gives universities and colleges the jurisdiction to notify parents when students under the age of 21 have violated policies related to substance use (Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1998). Additionally, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) responded to the issue by creating a task force calling for action to change the culture of drinking at U.S. colleges and universities (Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2002). The NIAAA also responded by identifying college student alcohol abuse as a tremendous societal burden, prompting government officials to form coalitions to thoroughly assess the scope of the problem (Kington, 2002).

It is somewhat surprising that alcohol abuse on university campuses is receiving more attention today than it has in the past, given its long history and prevalence (e.g., see Straus & Bacon, 1953). The rates of consumption appear to be relatively stable but high (Thombs & Briddick, 2000). In a nationwide analysis of the problem, Wechsler, Dowdall, Maenner, Gledhill-Hoyt, and Lee (1998) found that from 1993 to 1997, there was little change in drinking rates, with 42.6% of college students classified as "binge drinkers" and 20.7% classified as "frequent binge drinkers." In a more recent nationwide survey, Wechsler et al. (2002) found "heavy, episodic alcohol use" (i.e., binge drinking) among 44% of the sample. Although controversial, Wechsler et al. (1998, 2002) defined binge drinking as consuming five (four for women) or more drinks in a row in one sitting within the previous 2 weeks.

For decades, the cornerstones of alcohol abuse prevention on America's college and university campuses have been policy development and the enforcement of institutional regulations and state law (Eigen, 1995; Schuh & Shore, 1997). Most campuses establish alcohol policies that regulate the times and places of drinking. Somewhat less common are policies that regulate the sponsorship and marketing of campus events, the methods of dispensing alcohol, the application of sanctions for off-campus alcohol-related misbehavior, and the notification of parents following an alcohol-related emergency (Lewis & Thombs, 2005). Thus, most colleges and universities have responded in a typical fashion: by forming coalitions that promote, create, and enforce drinking regulations and establish psycho-education and counseling as mandatory activities for alcohol-related misbehavior (Gadaleto & Anderson, 1986; Thombs & Briddick, 2000).

Typically, students' readiness to change is not considered in the development of such interventions (Thombs & Briddick, 2000). Considering the motivational aspects of students' drinking, it may be that most moderate to heavy drinkers actually have a social investment in their alcohol use (W. R. Miller & Rollnick, 2002). Thombs and Briddick (2000) summarized the questionable assumptions that conventional alcohol prevention and intervention approaches may rest upon: (a) college students cannot manage the risks associated with drinking alcohol; (b) social conditions (i. …

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