Influential factors in college drinking

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

What influences students’ college drinking decisions?

  • Do friends peer pressure them?
  • Do they do it because they are bored?
  • Do they drink to relieve depression or anxiety?

Researchers recently tried to answer these questions by surveying college students…

65% of the participants reported having at least one drink in the past three months. It was astonishing that the typical number of drinks in a week was 10.5 and on a weekend was 7.3 average drinks. These numbers included drinkers and nondrinkers and was the average (meaning around half the people had more drinks as those had less). This indicates that college drinking is far more extreme than drinking happening outside of the college setting.

3 main influential factors for someone’s decisions in college drinking and to what extent:

  • If their close friends were drinking,
  • How drunk they thought they were, and
  • Their drinking intentions.

Interestingly enough, the more students thought others on their campus approved of drinking, the less they tended to drink. We recently reported similar misconceptions about students, their peers and marijuana use. Typically, if people intend to get drunk they use less protective factors (see here for a previous post about these) such as pacing or eating or keeping track of what they were drinking. Friends’ drinking was the best predictor of drinking habits in all cases.

You can tell a lot about a person by watching their friends, so watch who you surround yourself with. Those who think favorably of drinking tend to think they can drink more before reaching intoxication and also tend to hang out with others who do the same. However, these people are the ones that need the most intervention yet are the most difficult to change.

Those who socialize with a wide variety of people typically are lighter drinkers and tend to respond better to treatment immediately as well as have fewer problems further down the line. The heavier drinkers benefit more from motivational interventions focusing on their attitudes toward drinking.

Regardless of stereotypes, ethnicity, weight and gender did have an effect on any of these findings. It was peoples’ closest friends that were the most significant factor in influencing all aspects of college drinking.

Citation:
Examining the Unique Influence of Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Drinking Perceptions on Alcohol Consumption among College Students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Volume 70, 2, March 2009

More money more problems? Rich teens and drugs

Teens raised in affluent homes display the highest rates of depression, anxiety, and drug abuse according to a recent article in Monitor on Psychology, the APA‘s monthly magazine.

One of our recent posts dealt with some of the issues unique to teens and drugs. In addition to the issues we’d already mentioned, the article named a number of reasons for the high prevalence of mental-health issues among affluent teens. Among them were an increasingly narcissistic society, overbearing parents, and an common attitude of perfectionism.

Each of these reasons are likely contributors to the prevalence of mental health and drug abuse issues among upper-middle-class (and above) teens. Still, as far as I’m concerned, the main take home message of the article is this:

Money truly doesn’t buy happiness – Rich teens and drug use.

While drug abuse research often focuses on the lower socioeconomic strata these recent findings indicate that being financially stable offers little in the way of protection from some of the most common psychological difficulties.

Thankfully, the researchers cited in the article gave some simple advice to parents:

  • Give children clear responsibilities to help around the house.
  • Take part in community service (to unite the family and reduce narcissism).
  • Reduce TV watching (especially of reality TV shows that glorify celebrity and excess).
  • Monitor internet use.
  • Stop obsessing about perfect grades and focus instead on the joy of learning for its own sake.

I couldn’t agree more with these recommendations. Having taught a number of classes myself, I have witnessed the ridiculous inflation in students’ expectations of top grades. I think it’s time we turned attention back to the family and reintroduce some of the basic skills that many addicts find themselves learning much too late… Often in recovery.

Higher drug abuse among gay youth likely tied to rejection

For a lesbian, gay, or bisexual youth, “coming out” is an extremely stressful, though important event that can result in improved self-esteem, social-support, and psychological adjustment.

However, a recent study found that the reactions to such a disclosure have a lot to do with the risk of those youths abusing alcohol and drugs.

Social rejection and drug abuse among gay youth

The results revealed that the more rejecting reactions a youth receives, the more likely they are to engage in drug abuse including alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use. This was true even after researchers controlled for a number of other important variables like emotional distress and demographics (race, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status, etc.).

This makes a lot of sense. After finally deciding to go through with such a monumental disclosure, harsh rejections likely cause some serious damage to a youth’s self-esteem, making escape by drugs an attractive option. Although coming out can eventually lead to increased self-esteem even for this youth, the road there is not an easy one.

The good news was that accepting reactions seemed to protect youths from the harmful effects of being rejected – Social support helps!

The researchers suggested that drug abuse prevention attempts with LGBT youths address the impact of rejecting reactions to sexual-orientation disclosure directly in order to hopefully reduce their negative impact.

Here’s a video about the difficulties of coming out in high-school:

Reference:

Rosario, Schrimshaw, & Hunter (2009). Disclosure of sexual orientation and subsequent substance use and abuse among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: Critical role of disclosure reactions. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23, 175-184.

Parenting advice – What’s important when it comes to teens, alcohol, and drugs

Parents often ask us what they can do to prevent their children or teens from becoming alcoholics, drug addicts, criminals, and the likes. I’ve been all of these and more, and so I’d like to share my insight with you now that I’ve made it over to the other side:

You can’t prevent anything – but you can educate, inform, prepare, and support.

My family breaths success; it also breeds its. My father was a star athlete who turned into a star doctor and a star family man. He also never drank alcohol and couldn’t care less about drugs. My mother was a beauty queen who always helped me get the best grades in school, even if it meant that she ended up doing my art projects for me and keeping me up all night so I’d finish my work. I’m not sure if it was my perception or my parents’ actual wish, but I always felt like unless I saved the world, I would end up a nobody. Drinking enough alcohol to black-out and consuming every drug on earth was never supposed to be on my menu.

A recent article I read in a monthly psychology magazine (see my post on it here) talked about this sense of perfectionism in our culture and its effect on teen depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse. Did you know that these are highest among more affluent teens?

Advice #1 – Shooting for good performance is important, but focusing on it as a sole measure of success can lead to trouble.

I got gifts for grades, and the best gifts came only with the best grades. Anything short of perfect was pretty much frowned upon and considered “less than my best.” It became impossible for me to actually enjoy anything but the school subjects I excelled in (math, physics, chemistry). It wasn’t until I graduated from college and did some of my own exploration that I learned to appreciate art, English, and history as worthwhile pursuits. It’s a well-know fact in developmental psychology that you don’t reward behaviors that are supposed to be appreciated in their own right. If you do reward them do so with small gifts, nothing large. Big gifts take away the perception that the activity itself brought about enjoyment.

Advice #2 – Parenting requires consistency and openness, but leave the preaching for church.

This constant need for perfectionism also lead to the repression of many issues in my family.

My parents fought often when I was a kid, screaming loud enough for me to take my sister away often and go play. We never talked about the fights so I never managed to learn about conflict, relationships, or resolution. We never talked about my stealing either, whether I was stealing from my family (mainly my father’s porn) or from the neighborhood toy store. The one time I got caught, my father sternly told me to return my new toy and to never be caught stealing again. I began stealing away from my neighborhood; it would be years before he’d hear about me stealing again. It probably would have been better to sit down and talk about what just happened.

Later on, when my mother would find my weed in my room, she would hide it so that my dad won’t find it because he would get mad. We call that enabling. When I was caught stealing at my work, my father didn’t want to tell my mom, so as not to upset her, so he never brought it up again. We call that denial. Neither of these work since they don’t teach a child anything except how to hide things properly and that even responsible adults lie.

But research shows us that preaching is not a good parenting technique so stay open and talk about struggles without being hypocritical and trying to teach lessons that are obviously forced. Kids and teens pick up on that very quickly but they’re ready to learn from their parents.

Advice #3 – Don’t let your sense of pride, or your ego, prevent you from dealing with real issues with your children. Parenting requires you to be the adult in the relationship with your children even when things don’t go your way.

By the time my parents were forced to confront reality, things in my life had spiraled way out of control. They received a call from my LA lawyer telling them that their son had been arrested for some pretty serious drug dealing. My bail was set at $750,000 and I was facing 18 years in prison. That’s pretty difficult to ignore.

Ironically, my arrest, court case, and the year I spent in jail brought my family closer together than we had even been during my teen years or my later drug addiction phase. Having to actually confront many of our issues allowed us to bring some actual intimacy into the family I had run away from so many years before. The important thing was that my parents didn’t pull out the “we told you so” card but rather helped me confront my demons and treat them. It was the best parenting I’d received in my life and it worked.

My parents did the best they could. I know that. Still, I can’t help to wonder if worrying a little less about how things “should be” and a bit more about the reality of parenting their deviant son may have prevented the latter part of this story. Then again, there’s no guarantee of that either. That’s the most important parenting advice I can give when it comes to teens and drugs…

Alcohol, sleep, and school work: College drinking and GPA

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

We all know that college students often party and sleep more than they actually study.  But do heavy alcohol use and poor sleep patterns cause poor grades?

A recently published study found that just altering bed times by 2 hours can throw off your sleepiness during the day.  Most students in the study did show a 2-4 hour difference in daily bed times between weekdays and the weekend, and most went to bed after midnight.

The average number of drinks for participants came in around 6 drinks a night (equal for men and women).

The big question is: can these heavy drinkers in college still perform well academically? (See here for influential factors in college drinking)

No matter what the cause, insufficient sleep causes poor academic consequences.  Interestingly, those students who reported much more sleep also had lower GPAs (oversleep was mostly assumed, by the researchers, to be caused by drinking and staying up too late, though it could have been due to other issues such as depression).

Overall, those that drank more often went to sleep later and also had bigger gaps between weekday and weekend bedtimes, all of which correlated very highly with a lower GPA.

Citation:

Singleton, Wolfson (2009). Alcohol Consumption, Sleep And Academic Performance Among College Students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 70, 355-363)

How much alcohol is too much drinking? Knowing your BAC can be key!

There has been some research suggesting that training people to better estimate their Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), can help reduce accidents and improve risk-taking while drinking among college students (see here and here respectively).

I’m including a recent piece from one of our readers, telling us about her first over-21 drinking experience in Las-Vegas. I think this story exemplifies that young adults may often consume more alcohol than they are aware of while underestimating its effects Continue reading “How much alcohol is too much drinking? Knowing your BAC can be key!”

Antisocial personality disorder – Drug policy and court mandated addiction treatment

gavelA recent study conducted by a group at the University of Maryland found that court-mandated addiction treatment is especially helpful for those with Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).

Using 236 men, it was found the overall success for participants without ASPD was high (85%) whether the treatment was court mandated or not. However, for those with ASPD, a whopping 94% remained in court-mandated treatment, though only 63% stayed in voluntary programs!

ASPD is relatively rare in the general population, but it’s estimated that its prevalence is relatively high (some estimate the prevalence as high as 50%) among addicts in drug treatment programs. I personally doubt that ASPD prevalence is that high even among treated addicts but it is certainly higher.

The Maryland team’s findings have two important implications for substance abusers with ASPD that should be noted:

  1. Judicial mandates offer a way to keep them in addiction treatment programs.
  2. Voluntary participants may require special interventions to keep them actively engaged in therapy.

Recently, a colleague shared with me some great insight about research into the effectiveness of mandated treatment: Mandated treatment can be effective if implemented well, which may sound simple but isn’t within a system that is used to putting down prisoners and not building them up. However, without aftercare, even the best mandated treatment loses its impact quickly. When it comes to aftercare, when trying to determine the best form of it (outpatient, residential , intensive, medical, etc.) the best thing to do is to ask the released client – if the match between the client’s desires and the treatment provided is high, the results are significantly better.

Citation:

The interactive effects of antisocial personality disorder and court-mandated status on substance abuse treatment dropout. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 34(2):157-164, 2008