Archive for December, 2015

Which college students are likely candidates for risky sex?

A University of Illinois study suggests a significant link between instability in the lives of college-age young adults and the likelihood that they will engage in risky sex.

“Young adults experience a lot of instability caused by frequent transitions in their lives. They have probably moved out of their parents’ home (and some move back in). They experience changes in residences, roommates, friends, romantic partners, college majors, and employment. They may drop out of college, re-enroll, or transfer to another university. And some experience more transitional instability than others,” said Jill Bowers, a U of I researcher in human development and family studies.

Instability a Key Predictor

The study showed that the more instability college students experienced in their lives, the more likely they were to take sexual risks, she added.

According to Bowers, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have increased freedom from parents, are experimenting as a result of their new freedom, and are exploring their romantic identities.

In times of stress, emerging adults may exhaust the physical and emotional resources that buffer them from risky behaviors, lose their ability to think rationally, and engage in risky sexual behavior, she noted.

Impulsive Sexual Behavior

In the study, risky sex included (1) sex with uncommitted partners; (2) unplanned or casual sex with friends or strangers — without communicating about it first; and (3) impulsive sexual behavior.

The researchers surveyed 398 emerging adults at two U.S. universities, one in the Midwest and one in the Southwest. There were 290 female and 100 male participants (eight didn’t indicate their sex), all under the legal drinking age of 21.

The survey asked questions that elicited the frequency of risky sexual behaviors and assessed participants’ psychological well-being and motivations for drinking. Psychological distress, such as depression and loneliness, and dysfunctional drinking motivations, including drinking to gain peer acceptance or to ease emotional pain, amplified the association between instability and sexual risk taking. Family communication patterns were also examined, but they did not play a significant role in young adults’ propensity to engage in sexual risk taking.

‘Don’t Drink’ Message Alone Doesn’t Work

Bowers said that many colleges mandate completion of an online alcohol prevention program before students arrive on campus as freshmen, but she thinks their message misses the mark.

“I’d like to see these programs aim more toward teaching young adults how to manage stress and loneliness, achieve work-life balance, cope with relationship changes, and increase their self-esteem, instead of leaning so heavily on the message ‘Don’t drink,'” she said.

Dysfunctional Reasons for Drinking

Because all participants in the study were under 21 years old, there were possible legal consequences for under-age drinkers, she said.

“Yet the study showed that it wasn’t the fact that young adults drank, rather it was their dysfunctional reasons for drinking that enhanced the relationship between the instability they were experiencing and their sexual risk taking,” she said.

December 19th, 2015  in Alcohol No Comments »

Text message program effective at cutting binge drinking

A University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine-led trial to test a text message-based program aimed at reducing binge drinking is the first to show that such an intervention can successfully produce sustained reductions in alcohol consumption in young adults.

The findings revealed that the first-of-its-kind program, designed by lead author Brian Suffoletto, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine at Pitt, reduced binge drinking and alcohol-related injuries when compared to a control group and a self-monitoring group. The positive effect continued six months after the program ended. The results have been published in the journal PLOS ONE and are now available online.

“Given the low cost to send text messages and the capacity to deliver them to almost every at-risk young adult, a text message-based intervention targeting binge drinking could have a public health impact on reducing both immediate and long-term health problems,” said Dr. Suffoletto

Text Messages and Feedback

The 12-week trial randomized into three groups 765 18- to 25-year-olds who were discharged from four urban emergency departments in western Pennsylvania. The control group received standard care and no text messages. The self-monitoring group received text messages on Sundays asking about drinking quantity but received no feedback.

The final group received the full program, which consisted of text messages on Thursdays inquiring about weekend drinking plans and promoting a goal commitment to limit drinking, followed by another text on Sunday to inquire about actual drinking and give tailored feedback aimed at reducing alcohol consumption.

Follow-Up Messages

If someone receiving the full intervention program reported anticipating a heavy drinking day (more than five drinks during any 24-hour period for men and more than four for women), he or she received a text message expressing concern about those levels and asking if they would be willing to set a goal to limit their drinking below binge thresholds for the weekend.

Those who responded to the affirmative then received messages expressing positive reinforcement and strategies for cutting down. Those who refused to set goals received a text message encouraging them to reflect on the decision (For example, “It’s OK to have mixed feelings about reducing your alcohol use. Consider making a list of all the reasons you might want to change.”).

Binge Drinking Reduced

Six months after the end of the trial, participants who were exposed to the full text-message intervention reported an average of one less binge drinking day per month. There also was a 12 percent reduced incidence of binge drinking. The control group and the self-monitoring group both had no reduction in alcohol consumption.

“Compared to in-person interventions with a clinician discussing drinking habits with a young adult in the emergency department, which requires time and resources not routinely available, suffers high variability in how it is performed, and has shown limited ability to produce lasting reductions in hazardous drinking among young adults, our text message-based intervention is scalable, provides uniform behavioral materials, and seems to produce meaningful, potentially life-saving results,” said Dr. Suffoletto. “By interacting with these young adults in a way in which they are receptive to communicating, and reducing the stigma associated with traditional face-to-face counseling, text messages can provide the boost they need to control their drinking when they are at their most vulnerable to forget what is healthiest for them.”

December 3rd, 2015  in Alcohol No Comments »