Changing the Attitudes That Predict Underage Drinking in College Students: A Program Evaluation

By Williams, David J.; Thomas, Adrian et al. | Journal of College Counseling, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Changing the Attitudes That Predict Underage Drinking in College Students: A Program Evaluation


Williams, David J., Thomas, Adrian, Buboltz, Walter C., Jr., McKinney, Maribel, Journal of College Counseling


Several attitudes that predicted binge drinking on campus were identified by focus groups. A brief classroom intervention led to self-reported attitude change among university students. This type of intervention may be useful to college counselors interested in redefining normative perceptions of alcohol use to decrease the prevalence of binge drinking.

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Consumption or alcohol by underage students is a problem on university campuses nationwide (Wechsler, Dowdall, & Lee, 1998). College who drink alcohol heavily tend to miss more classes than do light drinkers (Presley, Harold, Scouten, Lyerla, & Meilman, 1993) and to have impaired academic performance (Berkowitz & Perkins, 1986). Drinking by college students also leads to more serious problems such as driving while intoxicated, personal injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and accidental death (Berkowitz & Perkins, 1986; Milgram, 1993). Drinking alcohol has also been linked to mental health problems such as low self-esteem, depression, stress, state anxiety, and trait anxiety (Corbin, McNair, & Carter, 1996; Flynn, 2000; Lewis & O'Neil, 2000; Pullen, 1994). Furthermore, college students who drink heavily tend to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors (Butcher, Manning, & O'Neil, 1991) and to experience consequences of chronic alcohol abuse such as cirrhosis of the liver (Eigen, 1991). Finally, Wechsler, Moeykens, Davenport, Castillo, and Hansen (1995) reported that individuals who drink heavily have adversely affected others in their environment. It is clear that prevention and intervention programs would have a great deal to offer if they could effectively avert alcohol-related consequences.

Unfortunately, higher education has not been as active as it could be in addressing alcohol abuse (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992). Barnett, Far, Mauss, and Miller (1996) reported that colleges and universities have been slow to implement specific alcohol intervention programs because many of these programs tend to be expensive and few have been systematically evaluated. As a result, the efficacy of many university programs is inferred, based on outcome measures derived in secondary educational settings. Some colleges have reported a reluctance to implement alcohol-related intervention programs with young adults because prior research has suggested that global, nonspecific, intervention programs are often an ineffective means to reduce alcohol consumption (Cronin, 1996).

However, some models of brief intervention programs that target specific behaviors or the expectancies that lead to drinking have been successful (Marlatt et al., 1998; Murgraff, White, & Phillips, 1996). For example, Cronin (1996) advocated the use of a harm-reduction model for alcohol intervention instead of models that treat alcohol consumption among college students as deviant behavior. Cronin's 15-minute intervention successfully reduced the total amount of alcohol self-reported as consumed, along with related problems experienced by drinkers during spring break. Barnett et al. (1996) reported that college students tended to overestimate the normative levels of actual drinking practices among their peers and that this presumably led to increased drinking. In their research, they found that by effectively reducing norm estimates among college students, they were able to systematically decrease the amount of alcohol that was consumed by the participants in their study. Finally, Bosari and Carey (2000) cond ucted a randomized controlled trial of a single motivational intervention session to decrease subsequent binge-drinking episodes of college students. The intervention provided students with information concerning perceived drinking norms, consequences of alcohol, situations associated with heavy drinking, and alcohol expectancies. At a 6-week posttest, students who had participated in the intervention reported significantly fewer episodes of binge drinking than did their control group counterparts. …

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