Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Reducing Alcohol Use in First-Year University Students: Evaluation of a Web-Based Personalized Feedback Program

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Reducing Alcohol Use in First-Year University Students: Evaluation of a Web-Based Personalized Feedback Program

Article excerpt

The efficacy of a Web-based personalized feedback program--electronic CHECKUP TO GO (e-CHUG), aimed at reducing heavy drinking in 1st-year university students--is evaluated. Results indicated that high-risk students in the e-CHUG group reported significantly greater reductions in weekly drinking quantity, frequency of drinking to intoxication, and occurrence of alcohol-related problems. Recommendations for integrating Web-based alcohol programs into a comprehensive prevention program are discussed.

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Heavy drinking represents a significant problem on college and university campuses in the United States, with more than 30% of students meeting criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse (Knight et al., 2002). Furthermore, heavy drinking is associated with multiple social and interpersonal problems such as arguing with friends, engaging in unplanned sexual activity, drinking and driving, getting into trouble with the law, academic difficulties, unintended injuries, assault, and death (Abbey, 2002; Cooper, 2002; Hingson, Heeren, Winter, & Wechsler, 2005; Perkins, 2002; Vik, Carrello, Tate, & Field, 2000; Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, & Lee, 2000). Additionally, relative to the general student population, 1st-year students have been identified as a high-risk group for heavy drinking (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [NIAAA], 2002). National survey data have indicated that approximately 44% of college and university 1st-year students report at least one episode of heavy drinking (Wechsler et al., 2002), and research has indicated that students increase their alcohol use during the 1st year (Borsari, Murphy, & Barnett, 2007). In comparison with upperclassmen, 1st-year students drink more drinks, engage in heavy drinking episodes more frequently (Turrisi, Padilla, & Wiersma, 2000), and are more likely to be arrested for alcohol-related incidents (Thompson, Leinfelt, & Smyth, 2006). Taken together, these studies support the importance of providing prevention and early intervention programs for 1st-year college and university students.

Recently, peer influence has gained attention in the literature as an important social variable that may be related to the elevated levels of drinking in college and university students. According to social norming theory (Perkins, 2002), college and university students overestimate the amount of alcohol their peers consume, which leads to participation in heavy drinking as students attempt to match their drinking levels to their perceptions of peer alcohol use. Research has indicated that interventions providing normative feedback about peer drinking are associated with reductions in alcohol consumption and that changes in estimates of peer drinking mediate the intervention effects on the reductions in drinking (Neighbors, Larimer, & Lewis, 2004; Waiters, Vader, & Harris, 2007). That is, receiving normative feedback is associated with a reduction in students' perceived norms of peer drinking that is, in turn, related to a subsequent decrease in drinking behavior.

Recent reviews of the literature support the efficacy of brief interventions using motivational interviewing and personalized normative feedback for reducing high-risk drinking among college and university students (Burke, Arkowitz, & Menchola, 2003; Carey, Scott-Sheldon, Carey, & DeMartini, 2007; Larimer & Cronce, 2007; Moyer, Finney, Swearingen, & Vergun, 2002). Motivational interviewing is a nonconfrontational, nonjudgmental approach designed to decrease drinking and drinking-related consequences (W. R. Miller & Rollnick, 2002). A central component of motivational interviewing is providing feedback regarding alcohol use. This feedback typically includes individualized feedback regarding risk status and normative feedback relative to peers (Larimer et al., 2001; Marlatt et al., 1998). Innovative approaches to implementing brief motivational interventions have also been developed. …

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