In Brief

College drinkers imbibe alcohol in different patterns during the school year, with some, for example, drinking heavily only during the holidays and others steadily increasing their consumption throughout the year, finds new research in April's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (Vol. 73, No. 2).

Those variations point to a need for universities to target interventions to specific groups of students to effectively prevent alcohol abuse, say the article's authors, psychologists Mark Goldman, PhD, Paul Greenbaum, PhD, Frances Del Boca, PhD, Jack Darkes, PhD, and Chen-Pin Wang, PhD, all of the University of South Florida.

The team reanalyzed data they collected from 237 freshmen in a previous study on freshman drinking. In that study, students reported how many drinks they had each day during the entire school year. The researchers derived a pattern that best fit the data, finding that students drank more during holiday breaks and weekends and less during midterms.

Using a new statistical procedure in this study, the researchers looked to see if students had more individual drinking styles within that larger pattern. They found that five distinct patterns of drinking behavior best accounted for variations in the data: The drinkers either drank lightly all year, drank lightly but binged during the holidays, drank moderately at the year's start but increased consumption over time, gradually curtailed drinking throughout the year or consistently drank heavily all year long.

The authors hope the findings show that more nuanced prevention programs might be necessary, says Goldman, also the associate director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Currently, he adds, most college prevention programs don't tailor their message to different drinkers, which means that message--such as not to binge drink--often doesn't get through to people who really need it.

"Interventions may not be one-size-fits-all," adds Darkes. "Some students who only drink at the holidays may think these college intervention programs aren't for them, because they rarely drink. But if we knew that such a person was vulnerable to bursts of occasional drinking at the holidays, we could offer a program specifically designed to help them handle those moments. And we can offer it near the time when we predict behavior will be troublesome."

The researchers are now studying the drinking behavior of freshman-age participants who don't attend college. Ultimately, they hope others will replicate this research at different campuses--such as those in cities versus those in college towns--and with older students.