Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Characteristics of High-Risk College Student Drinkers Expressing High and Low Levels of Distress

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Characteristics of High-Risk College Student Drinkers Expressing High and Low Levels of Distress

Article excerpt

The aim of this study was to identify variables that reliably differentiated between 2 groups of students who reported binge drinking at the same rate (6 to more than 10 times within the previous 2 weeks) but who exhibited different distress associated with their behavior. Results indicated that students who received an external expression of concern were more likely to be concerned themselves about their alcohol use. The clinical utility of this finding is discussed.

Keywords: binge drinking, college students, distress

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Binge, or heavy episodic, drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 gram-percent or above. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that, for a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to the consumption of five or more drinks by males and four or more drinks by females in approximately 2 hours (NIAAA, 2007). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. DHHS) considers excessive alcohol consumption to be a major public health concern in general, but considers binge drinking especially problematic among college students (U.S. DHHS, 2000). The comparative findings of several studies provide justification for this heightened sense of concern. Survey data revealed considerable decreases in alcohol use among adolescents and young adults between 1979 and 2006 (Grucza, Norberg, & Bierut, 2009), but comparable declines are not observed within college student samples during a similar time period, and heavy drinking remains prevalent within this group (Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2008).

In the United States, the culture of drinking on college campuses has become a time-honored, albeit problematic, tradition spanning hundreds of years. Evan Pugh, the first president of Penn State University (1859-1864), was troubled by students' seemingly pervasive preferences for "liquor parties" to his literary clubs (Bezilla, 1985). Though the relationship between college students and alcohol is long-standing, rigorous efforts to understand, and ultimately curb, this problem are by and large a relatively recent development. It was not until the latter third of the 20th century that the newly developed NIAAA issued a comprehensive report to "encourage fresh thinking and experimentation regarding alcohol abuse and prevention" (NIAAA, 1976, p. xii). Colleges and universities have made various efforts (e.g., policy changes, alcohol education, norming campaigns, brief motivational interventions), with varying success, to address the dangerous practice of binge drinking within the student body. Increasingly, these efforts have become scientifically grounded and empirically informed. Further, some researchers have systematically calculated estimates of binge drinking and the corresponding negative consequences to generate a more accurate approximation of the extent of the problem (e.g., Hingson, Heeren, Zakocs, Kopstein, & Wechsler, 2002). Approximately 40% of college students, for example, consume alcohol in a manner that holds the highest potential for harm--binge drinking (Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, & Lee, 2000).

Within the binge-drinking group, the degree of harm associated with each potential consequence is dependent on at least two dimensions: severity and impact. The severity of binge-drinking consequences can range from relatively mild to lethal. For example, the range includes academic struggles, hangovers, alcohol poisoning, and fatalities (Ichiyama & Kruse, 1998; Perkins, 1992; Wechsler et al., 2000). The impact of binge drinking can be divided into primary and secondary effects. Primary effects are those that binge drinkers incur as a result of their drinking, whereas secondary effects are those incurred by others. The secondary effects have been shown to impact the general student population, the campus climate, and local community members in the forms of alcohol-related aggression, property damage, and campus disruptions (e. …

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