CHICAGO -- Behavioral interventions can bring problem drinking to a halt, before it becomes an established pattern of college campus life, researchers said at the annual meeting of the Research Society for Alcoholism.
Freshmen are especially susceptible to high-risk drinking in their first semester, they said. After all, the structure of these students' lives and the choices available change as soon as they arrive on campus. Some students develop serious disorders that were not evident before. Others begin high-risk drinking.
However, interventions delivered to freshmen during that first semester can have a profound impact on later behavior.
"It's important to address this early, because drinking patterns established in the first few weeks on campus tend to persist throughout the college years," said Joseph LaBrie, Ph.D.
Dr. LaBrie of the department of psychology at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, presented a randomized controlled trial of a brief motivational enhancement group session tailored to freshmen women.
The trial compared an intervention group, in which the girls examined their reasons for drinking and balanced their behavior against their long-term personal goals, with a control group that received only a pamphlet about the effects of drinking on women.
The project recruited participants through a random sample e-mail invitation. Women who accepted answered questions about their weekly and monthly alcohol intake; average and maximum drinks per occasion; and intended drinking in the next month.
They also completed the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index, which is a 23-item self-administered screening tool used to assess problem drinking among adolescents and young adults, in addition to a readiness to change profile.
Randomization occurred when they clicked on a group they wished to attend. They did not know which group was the control and which the intervention.
The intervention group contained 126 freshmen women. It consisted of a 120-minute group session (8-12 members) lead by two women trained in motivational interviewing.
The group completed a 3-month Alcohol Timeline Followback of their drinking behavior, and a discussion of alcohol consumption expectations along with normative feedback comparing their drinking with the drinking of the average college freshman woman.
The group then entered an open-ended discussion about their reasons for drinking, a decisional balance exercise weighing the pros and cons of drinking less, and a personal goal-setting session.
The major aim was to identify whatever discrepancy there was between their personal desires and goals and what was really going on in their lives with alcohol, and then to "use that to prompt them to change their behavior," Dr. LaBrie said.
The control group was made up of 94 women who attended a 30-minute group session. During that session, they completed a time line followback assessment of their drinking and received a pamphlet with female-specific alcohol information.
At the 10-week follow-up interview, women in the intervention group reported significant decreases in their drinking, compared with those in the control group, Dr. …