Some Strategies to Protect College Students Against Drinking Too Much May Backfire

Some strategies college students use to help protect them against drinking too much may backfire, a new study suggests. Some of these strategies are associated with greater alcohol use and an increased number of consequences, the researchers tell Reuters.

Protective strategies can include making sure you go home with a friend, having a friend let you know when you’ve had enough to drink, avoiding drinking games or drinking water between alcoholic drinks.

The findings come from a study of almost 700 undergraduate college students, and 131 of their friends, who intended to go on a spring break trip and drink heavily on at least one day. They answered an online survey before and after the trip about drinking activities, protective strategies and negative consequences of drinking, such as fighting, passing out, or taking foolish risks.

The students said they had an average of five-and-a-half alcoholic drinks per day during their trip. “Harm reduction” strategies, such as making sure they went home with a friend, and “limiting/stopping” strategies, such as having a friend let them know when they had enough to drink, was associated with more drinking and greater consequences from drinking.

“Manner of drinking” strategies, such as avoiding drinking games or drinking more water, were associated with less drinking and fewer consequences. The findings appear in Addictive Behaviors.

Lead researcher Melissa A. Lewis of the University of Washington in Seattle noted that just because harm reduction strategies are linked with greater consumption of alcohol, it does not necessarily mean they are bad.

“Take for example, using a designated driver, which is a type of serious harm reduction strategy,” she said. “Using a designated driver may be associated with increased drinking or consequences. A student may have drank more heavily and done embarrassing things. However, they didn’t drive drunk.”

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