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The Role of Relationship Changes in College Students’ Heavy Episodic Drinking

Young adults transitioning to adulthood are known to experience increases in heavy episodic drinking (HED) and sexual exploration. Previous research has shown students in a committed relationship may engage in lower levels of alcohol use or that those who casually date may engage in consuming higher levels of alcohol. The current study looks at associations between relationship/sexual activity types and risky drinking behavior.

The study included 885 college students and took data from freshman fall, freshman spring, and sophomore fall.  Measures included sensation-seeking, religiosity, relationship types, sexual activity, changes in relationship/sexual activity types, and heavy episodic drinking. Sensation-seeking included 11 true/false items including things like “I like doing things just for the thrill of it.” Religiosity asked participants about their religious beliefs or cultural traditions including attendance. Relationship types included single, dating but not exclusively, dating exclusively, engaged, married, or other. Sexual activity included total number of vaginal, oral, and anal sexual partners over the last three months.

Results showed that the impact of sexual activity on HED was not found to be different between single and exclusively dating participants. The effect was the strongest however among single participants. High risk statuses included the groups casually dating/sexually active, casually dating/not sexually active, and single/sexually active. Overall, participants that were not dating but sexually active had HED use similar to casual daters and non-dating students that were not sexually active had behaviors similar to those in exclusive relationships. These findings show that non-exclusive dating along with casual sexual relationships may increase risk of problematic patterns of alcohol use.

Take Away: Young adults transitioning to adulthood are known to experience increases in heavy episodic drinking (HED) and sexual exploration. The current study looks at associations between relationship/sexual activity types and drinking behavior. The study included 885 college students and took data from freshman fall, freshman spring, and sophomore fall.  Measures included sensation-seeking, religiosity, relationship types, sexual activity, changes in relationship/sexual activity types, and heavy episodic drinking. Overall, participants that were not-dating but sexually active had HED use similar to casual daters and non-dating students that were not sexually active had behaviors similar to those in exclusive relationships. These findings show that non-exclusive dating along with casual sexual relationships may increase risk of problematic patterns of alcohol use.

Corbin, W. R., Hartman, J. D., Curlee, A. S., Zalewski, S., & Fromme, K. (2020). The Role of Relationship Changes in College Students’ Heavy Episodic Drinking. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 44(6), 1273-1283. doi:10.1111/acer.14347

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