US: Research identifies problem-drinkers on campus

Binge-drinking by university students is a problem in many countries but new US research US has highlighted the characteristics of those most at risk of alcohol-related injuries. The findings by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers suggest that university managers who want to minimise the incidence of alcohol-related injuries should focus on a relatively small group of students.

Student binge-drinking is no laughing matter. Marlon P Mundt, assistant scientist in the department of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and corresponding author for the study, said more than 1,700 US college students aged 18-24 died from alcohol-related injuries in 2001.

As well, about 2.8 million US college students drove under the influence of alcohol in the past 12 months and 600,000 students were hit or assaulted by a student who was under the influence of alcohol, Mundt said.

He said 70% of students had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days and 40% had engaged in heavy drinking in the past two weeks. He and his colleagues studied more than 2,000 students who exceeded at-risk levels of alcohol consumption to assess alcohol use over the past 28 days and alcohol-related injuries in the preceding six months.

They found that male students who drank eight or more drinks, and females who had five or more drinks on at least four days per month every weekend, were five times more likely to be injured than those who did not drank as much.

Students who scored high on "sensation-seeking disposition" also experienced greater risk for alcohol-related injuries, Mundt said. Prior research had shown that a sensation-seeking disposition was linked to alcohol-related injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms and also to alcohol-impaired driving.

"College administrators, parents, and clinicians need to focus their intervention efforts on these students - 'frequent extreme heavy drinkers' - who score high on sensation-seeking disposition," he said.

"These are the students at high risk for injury. Quantities alone, or frequency of consumption alone, do not show the whole picture. A drinking pattern of frequent extreme intoxication is the key as it escalates injury rates rapidly."

The research is to be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.