Academic journal article College Student Journal

College Student's Health, Drinking and Smoking Patterns: What Has Changed in 20 Years?

Academic journal article College Student Journal

College Student's Health, Drinking and Smoking Patterns: What Has Changed in 20 Years?

Article excerpt

Problem: Institutes of higher learning are increasingly trying to address the issue of problem drinking. The purpose of this study was to determine how patterns in alcohol use and smoking by college students, as well as their illness patterns, have changed over 20 years.

Methods: A cross-sectional serial survey design was used for this descriptive study. Data were collected during the 2011-2012 academic year from a convenience sample of students enrolled in a personal health course at a large Midwestern university. Data were compared to findings from the 1991-1992 academic year. Self-reported survey data regarding illness and alcohol and tobacco use were collected using the Student Health and Lifestyle Questionnaire

Results: More males reported abstaining and fewer were classified as binge drinkers than 20 years ago. The opposite was true of women, who reported less abstention and trends towards heavier drinking. The choice of alcoholic beverage changed from beer to consuming more hard liquor. Smoking was significantly decreased along with self-reported upper respiratory infections and episodes of acute illness.

Conclusions: Smoking prevention efforts appear to be having a positive effect on campus health, but more gender-specific efforts may be needed to reduce the risk behavior of drinking.

Key Words: alcohol abuse; adolescent health; health risk behaviors; smoking; substance abuse


Twenty years ago a study of the health and lifestyle patterns of students enrolled in an elective personal health course at a large Midwestern university found that self-reported illness increased when alcohol consumption exceeded 28 drinks per week (Engs & Aldo-Benson, 1995). This project replicates that study at the same university and compares the findings to the original data to see what has changed in 20 years in terms of health, alcohol use, and smoking.

In the 1990s a large study found that 72% of university students in the United States consumed alcohol (Engs, Hanson, & Diebold, 1996). Using the definition of more than 21 drinks per week for males or more than 14 drinks for females, the same study found that 28.4% of those student could be classified as heavy or binge drinkers. Engs and Aldo-Benson (1995) found that when alcohol intake exceeded 28 drinks per week students; self-reported health suffered. This association was found to be independent of the student's smoking status.

Newer definitions classify moderate drinking as up to one drink a day for females and two drinks a day for males (United States Department of Agriculture [USD A] & United States Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2005). Consumption above those limits is now considered heavy drinking. Binge drinking is a form of heavy drinking that brings the blood alcohol concentration level to 0.08% or more. This pattern of drinking usually corresponds to five or more drinks on a single occasion, generally within about two hours, for men or four or more drinks for women (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [NIAAA], 2004). Binge drinking on college campuses is a significant public health problem associated with over 600,000 unintentional injuries, 97,000 sexual assaults, and 1,825 deaths annually, costing society an estimated 184 billion dollars in crime, health care, and loss of productivity (Hingson, Zha, & Weitzman, 2009; Gronbaek, 2009). Healthy People 2020 states that 40% of college students binge drink, but others have found binge drinking rates as high as 63% among females and 86% among males (Gronbaek, 2009; USDHHS, 2012).

Healthy People 2020 has an objective to reduce binge drinking among college students by 10% (USDHHS, 2012), but how best to accomplish this goal is not clear. The NIAAA (2002) recommends a framework combines social-cultural approaches with reduction of consumption efforts at the individual, student body, and college and surrounding community levels. …

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