Study: Harm-Reduction Most Effective in Curbing College Drinking

A study analyzing alcohol interventions for college students finds that harm-reduction strategies such as choosing a designated driver and encouraging students to drink less are more effective than urging total abstinence, Health Day News reported June 16.

The study found that providing students with the opportunity to discuss alcohol-related information in a non-judgmental format also appeared effective in reducing their alcohol use. Furthermore, students at greater risk for alcohol-related problems seemed to benefit more from motivational intervention and follow-up “booster sessions.”

“Harm-reduction approaches make a great deal of sense in both college-student populations generally and with mandated students (those required to take alcohol classes because of past alcohol offenses) more specifically,” said researcher Mark Wood, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island.

The study suggests that alcohol interventions focus on student social networks.

“College students typically drink in social situations with friends and roommates,” said researcher Tracy O’Leary Tevyaw. “Mandated students drink on average more than students who are not mandated. However, mandated students typically report that their friends drink as much or more than they do. Their perceptions about what constitutes ‘normative drinking’ are influenced by having peers who also drink heavily.”

She added, “If we can effect changes in these perceptions, as well as in the student’s social network by offering a targeted intervention to their heavy drinking peers — many of whose drinking is occurring under the radar — we might see enhanced short and long-term outcomes.”

The study’s findings are published in the June 2004 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.