Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Factors That Predict Self-Perceived Problem Drinking among College Students

Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Factors That Predict Self-Perceived Problem Drinking among College Students

Article excerpt


Excessive alcohol use among college students is a significant public health problem. In order to design and implement effective intervention programs, college personnel must first target students who are problem drinkers. This study of 316 Midwestern college students examines factors that predict whether a student self-identities as a problem drinker. Although 42% of students indicated recent binge drinking episodes and 30% reported a regrettable sexual experience due to alcohol use, 80% indicated that their drinking is "not at all problematic." Students were more likely to identify themselves as problem drinkers if they consumed more drinks per week when compared to other students. Other statistically significant predictors of self-perceived problematic drinking were binge drinking, consuming alcohol without the company of others, having an alcohol-related arrest, and participating in regrettable sex due to alcohol use. Students reporting more depressive symptoms than other students were also more likely to identify as problem drinkers. Future research should consider additional variables when examining the complex processes students utilize in deciding whether their drinking is problematic.


The World Health Report suggests that alcohol use is among the leading risk factors for negative health consequences and death worldwide (WHO, 2002). Although alcohol misuse is present among people of varying ages, persons aged 18 to 24 years show the greatest proportion of problem drinkers (US Department of Health and Human Services, 1997). While many college students are not yet of legal drinking age, the majority has consumed alcohol in the previous year and about 40% indicate that they are binge drinkers (O'Malley & Johnston, 2002). The US Department of Health and Human Services (1990) has indicated that more than 21 drinks, and more than 14 drinks, per week exceed the safe level of consumption for men and women, respectively. Yet, 31% of college men and 19% of college women drink more than this established amount. Clements (1999) suggests that about 13% of undergraduates meet clinical criteria for an alcohol abuse diagnosis.

The potential negative consequences of excessive alcohol use among college students are plentiful and include physical injury, unwanted sexual activity, conflicts with friends, and confrontations with authority (Wechsler, Davenport, Dowdall, Moeykens, & Castillo, 1994). Excessive alcohol use at colleges and universities is an impactful social issue because it not only affects the student who consumes alcohol but other students in the university community. Nearly 90% of students who reside on college and university campuses have experienced "secondhand effects" of binge drinking (Wechsler, 1996). These secondhand effects may include factors such as interrupted sleep, being insulted, destroyed personal property, and negotiating undesired sexual advances. Consequences for other students may be more serious such as sexual or physical assault (Wechsler et al., 1994). Students living on campuses where binge drinking is common are more likely to be at risk for these negative outcomes than students living on campuses where binge drinking is less common. The threats that other students are exposed to as a result of excessive drinking warrant substantial public health concern among college administrators and personnel.

Definitions and perceptions of problem drinking

In the past two decades, rates of problematic drinking on college campuses have remained relatively stable in spite of universities' attempts to decrease these behaviors (Wechsler, Lee,

Kuo, & Lee, 2000; Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, Seibring, Nelson, & Lee, 2002). In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General established a goal of reducing college drinking by half by 2010 (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). Nevertheless, heavy episodic drinking among college students has remained a prominent public health issue (Dawson, Grant, Stinson, & Chou, 2004). …

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