Faculty Articles

Risk Behaviors and Drug Use: A Latent Class Analysis of Heavy Episodic Drinking In First-Year College Students

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Psychology of Addictive Behaviors





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Examining individual characteristics may not yield an understanding of the complex array of factors that affect college student alcohol use. Utilizing a latent class analysis, the present study investigated an alcohol and drug use database of first-year college students at 89 U.S. colleges and universities (N = 21,945). These data were collected between December, 2010 and September, 2011. This study identified: (1) classes based on alcohol consumption, alcohol-related behaviors, and past-year use of illegal drugs and nonmedical use of prescriptions medications (NMUPM); (2) demographic covariates of these classes; and (3) differential social norms awareness, perceived harmfulness of illegal drugs and NMUPM, and protective strategies. Four classes were identified: (1) Low Risk Drinking/Low Prevalence Drug Use (Class 1); (2) Lower Intake Drinking/Moderate Prevalence Drug Use (Class 2); (3) Moderate Risk Drinking/Moderate Prevalence Drug Use (Class 3); and (4) High Risk Drinking/High Prevalence Drug Use (Class 4). Classes differed in self-reported typical week drinking, estimated peak blood alcohol content over the past 2 weeks, high-risk alcohol use, negative alcohol-related consequences, driving under the influence or riding with drinking drivers, alcohol-related protective behaviors, and past-year substance use. Of particular interest was the identification of a latent class (Class 2) composed primarily of females with a relatively low alcohol intake, but with a high probability of past-year other substance use. This group reported negative alcohol-related consequences despite their relatively low intake. To our knowledge, this is the first latent class analysis of college student alcohol use that includes a drug use indicator and compares social norms awareness, harmfulness perceptions, and alcohol-related protective behaviors between classes.



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