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Effect of fear of victimization on hazardous alcohol drinking, tobacco, and marijuana use among university students: A tale of two sexes

Substance use among college students remains a public health concern in the United States. Previous studies have shown that there may be individual risk factors for substance use including gender. Exposure to violence has also been shown to be linked to an increase in substance use. The current study looks at sex differences in the association between fear of victimization and substance use in college students.

To complete the study, 1415 undergraduate and graduate students were recruited and completed an online questionnaire. The questionnaire included questions about sociodemographic factors (age, sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation), fear of different forms of victimization, mental health issues, and substance use. Fear questions asked participants to rank their fear on eleven different types of violent and property crimes. These fear scores were then summed together and further characterized. Self-reported alcohol use, recent marijuana use, and recent tobacco use were also assessed. 73.5% of the final participants were female and 52.3% were over the age of 21.

Fear of victimization was found to be higher in female participants than male participants with 33.1% of females reporting very high fear. 16.3% of male participants reported very high fear and 35.6% had low or no fear of victimization. As was predicted, females with higher fear of victimization reported more hazardous alcohol consumption along with recent marijuana use. LBGTQ males reported more fear of victimization and fear was lower in male participants who had recently used tobacco. High and very high fear of victimization were also associated with marijuana use among females. Overall fear of victimization had a larger impact on female’s substance use and almost no impact on male student substance use. This information is important when identifying potential risk factors for substance use with fear of victimization being a probable factor among women.

Take Away: The current study looks at sex differences in the association between fear of victimization and substance use in college students. 1415 undergraduate and graduate students were recruited and completed an online questionnaire asking about fear of victimization, mental health issues, and substance use. Fear of victimization was found to be higher in female participants than male participants and females with higher fear of victimization reported more hazardous alcohol consumption along with recent marijuana use. Overall fear of victimization had a larger impact on female’s substance use and almost no impact on male student substance use. This information is important when identifying potential risk factors for substance use with fear of victimization being a probable factor among women.

Couture, M.-C., Garcia, D., Whaley, R., & Grinshteyn, E. (2020). Effect of fear of victimization on hazardous alcohol drinking, tobacco, and marijuana use among university students: A tale of two sexes. Addictive Behaviors, 106, 106355. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106355

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