Female Freshman and Unsafe Drinking

Alcohol abuse can lead to unsafe behavior in young college women who drink to cope

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) College is supposed to be a safe place to learn, but it can also be a place to learn bad habits. Using alcohol to cope with bad feelings during college can carry over into adult life. A recent study’s findings showed a 17 percent increase in bad alcohol-related behavior.

The lead researcher said, “Drinking habits often form in young adulthood, so if a young person gets into the habit of drinking heavily, it may be harder for her to break this habit as an adult.”

“Additionally, because of the physiological differences between men and women, women may have more immediate and severe physical symptoms if they consume as much alcohol as a binge-drinking male peer in a short amount of time.”

"Talk to your kids about alcohol consumption."

Monika Stojek, MS, graduate student, and Sarah Fisher, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, led an investigation into risky alcohol consumption by college girls.

Ms. Stojek said, “In the last 30 years, young women have been ‘catching up’ to young men in that binge drinking has been increasing in this group.”

For the study, 319 freshman females were recruited from an introduction to psychology class at Southeastern University to take the Short-form Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (S-MAST).

The S-MAST asked 13 questions that linked five different types of impulsive behaviors and drinking motives to alcohol consumption:

  • Negative urgency – to act rashly when experiencing negative emotion
  • Positive urgency – to act rashly when experiencing positive emotion
  • Lack of deliberation – acting without thinking
  • Lack of persistence – not following through with a plan
  • Sensation seeking – risk taking behavior to stimulation

Each of the students took the S-MAST at the beginning of the semester and again 3 months later. Only 235 of the women were drinkers, but all took the test twice.

At the 3-month mark, 17 percent of the group had an increased S-MAST score in relation to drinking to get rid of negative feelings or enhance positive feelings when compared the first test.

Researchers found problematic alcohol consumption when negative urgency was linked with trying to cope and lack of deliberation was linked with trying to enhance a situation.

Concerns about risky alcohol consumption were:

  • Physical safety, including accidental death
  • Risk of sexual assault
  • Poor grades

Gregory Smith, PhD, research professor at the University of Kentucky said, “College women should learn to plan ahead when they go drinking in order to reduce their risk for problems.”

“Women who tend to get impulsive when distressed should seek training from mental health professionals on effective ways to avoid impulsive actions that prove harmful.”

“Parents and college administrators should not underestimate the risks associated with heavy drinking during the college years.”

This study was published in November in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Funding for this research was supported by the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 13, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013