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Alcohol consequence trajectories linked to residence status among U.S. college students

Previous literature has documented the transition from high school to college is associated with increased drinking, yet little research has been conducted on changes drinking behaviors after the first year of college. A new study investigated the relationship between changes in college student resident status and alcohol-related consequences during the first two years of college. Participants were first-semester college students at one U.S. institution who were recruited as part of a larger study. Inclusion criteria were being aged 18 to 19 years old, reporting consuming at least one drink prior to baseline, and living on campus at baseline. Participants (N = 2,204) completed a baseline survey during the fall of their freshman year, as well as a follow-up survey one year later. The response rate was 87.4% and 1,706 students were included in the final sample. At follow-up, 39.4% of participants lived in on-campus residence halls, 9.2% lived in sorority or fraternity housing, and 51.4% lived in off-campus housing. Survey measures included frequency of experiencing alcohol-related consequences in the past semester (physiological, social, sexual, academic, tolerance, legal, and impulse control), typical drinking behaviors, and frequency of past-month heavy drinking. The authors used latent transition analysis (LTA) to identify trajectories of alcohol consequences among the sample; relative measures of fit, parsimony, and model interpretability were employed to determine the optimal number of statuses. Results indicated four statuses provided the optimal fit: No consequences (most likely to report not experiencing any consequences; 35%), physical consequences non-repeater (most likely to experience only physical consequences and only one time; 41%), multiple consequences (likely to report at least one incident of most consequence subscales two or more times; 20%), and multiple consequences repeater (likely to report repeated experiences of all the consequences; 4%). From baseline to follow-up, 49% of participants remained in the same status. The most common type of transition was to the next highest or lowest risk status. For example, 31% of the no consequences group transitioned to the physical non-repeater group at follow-up, while those in the physical non-repeater were roughly equally likely to transition to the no consequences group (18%) as to the multiple consequences group (19%). At follow-up, participants who remained living on campus were more likely to belong to the no consequences status than those who moved to Greek housing (p < 0.001). Participants in Greek housing were more likely to belong to the multiple consequence repeater group than their peers who lived on-campus (p < 0.001) or off-campus (p < 0.001) at follow-up. Among participants in the no consequences (p < 0.05) and physical non-repeater (p = 0.07) groups at baseline, those who moved to Greek housing were had greater odds of transiting to multiple consequences repeater status than those who remained living on campus (Odds ratios [ORs] = 9.79 and 2.69, respectively). Among participants in the highest risk group (multiple consequences repeater) at baseline, those who remained living on campus at follow-up had greater odds of transitioning to the multiple consequences group (one status lower in terms of risk), compared to participants who moved off-campus (p = 0.09, OR = 3.84). Limitations of this study include its reliance on self-report and a racially homogenous sample.

Take away: This study identified four statuses to classify alcohol-related consequences experienced during the first semester of college. Participants who moved out of on-campus residence halls after their first year had greater odds of transitioning to a higher-risk status than those who remained living on campus.

Cleveland, M.J., Mallett, K.A., Turrisi, R., Sell, N.M., Reavy, R. & Trager, B. (2018). Using latent transition analysis to compare effects of residency status on alcohol-related consequences during the first two years of college. Addictive Behaviors [published online ahead of print June 8, 2018] doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.06.002

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