Common Characteristics, Orientations, and Actions Shared by Drinking Categories at UMD, St. Scholastica, and Lake Superior College
The research findings produced by the UMD Center for Addiction Studies in the past two years have identified numerous features that typify different categories of drinkers at three Duluth-area colleges. While a brunt of the research focused on UMD and St. Scholastica students, some features of alcohol using students at Lake Superior College also fit into common threads seen in the other two schools.
Populations of interest at each school, usually divided by gender, were further divided into three categories- at or above the mean drinkers, below the mean drinkers, and nondrinkers- based on calculations of the mean number of drinks on the last partying occasion for each population. While the means varied greatly for each population, the trends found within them did not. These trends are the topic of the present report, and can be described as similarities in characteristics, orientations, and actions of the three drinking categories. What follows is a summary of similarities in these three areas between at or above the mean drinkers, below the mean drinkers, and nondrinkers at UMD and St. Scholastica. In a few cases Lake Superior College is included, as noted below.
- Male students consistently had higher mean numbers of drinks on their last partying occasions than did female students. For example, female St. Scholastica students had a mean of 4.44 drinks, while male St. Scholastica students had a mean of 8.27. Female UMD students had a mean of 6.02, while male UMD students had a mean of 10.12. Traditional female students (ages 18-24) at Lake Superior College had a mean of 6.35 drinks on their last partying occasions, while traditional male students had a mean of 9.91 drinks.
- Students 21 years old or older and students in their third or fourth years of college were consistently the most likely to be below the mean drinkers, while underclassmen and students under the legal drinking age were usually the most likely to be at or above the mean drinkers. Among Lake Superior College students, traditional students (ages 18-24) reported higher levels of alcohol use than did their nontraditional (ages 25 and older) counterparts.
- No correlation was found between living arrangements and heavy drinking. At or above the mean drinkers and nondrinkers were both just as likely to live on campus as off campus. Students who lived with their parents, however, were the least likely to be at or above the mean drinkers, and usually reported being below the mean drinkers.
- No correlation was found between relationship statuses and heavy drinking. People in engaged or committed relationships fell almost evenly into the three drinking categories.
- At or above the mean drinkers were the most likely to report working “zero hours for pay” per week among UMD students. Nondrinkers were the most likely to report this among St. Scholstica students.
- While all populations had relatively low numbers of students who volunteer, at or above the mean drinkers were the most likely to report volunteering “zero hours weekly” while nondrinkers were the least likely to report this, and hence the nondrinkers were the most likely to volunteer their time and services.
- Students in all three drinking categories tended to perceive much greater alcohol, tobacco, and drug use among their fellow students than their fellow students actually reported. Nondrinkers tended to perceive the greatest use of these substances among their fellow students, while at or above the mean drinkers tended to perceive the least.
- Nondrinkers consistently reported that their parents were believable sources of health information more than the other two drinking categories, although all categories found parents to be relatively believable when compared to other sources.
- At or above the mean drinkers reported that television and magazines were believable sources of health information more so than the nondrinkers, who reported this the least.
- At or above the mean drinkers consistently reported than their friends were believable sources of health information the most, while nondrinkers tended to report this the least.
- All three drinking categories reported that they usually get their health information from sources that were generally considered to be less believable than others, such as from friends and from television as opposed to from health educators and from medical staff members.
- At or above the mean drinkers tended to report experiencing feelings associated with depression (such as hopelessness and exhaustion) the most, while nondrinkers tended to report experiencing these feelings the least. At or above the mean drinkers also reported being diagnosed with anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse more than the other two categories.
- At or above the mean drinkers practiced safe drinking measures (like setting a number of drinks not to exceed or eating during drinking) less than their below the mean drinking counterparts. All three categories tended to report high levels of using designated drivers.
- At or above the mean drinkers experienced more negative consequences resulting from drinking (like injuring themselves or forgetting where they were or what they did) than did below the mean drinkers (including Lake Superior College students).
- Nondrinkers consistently had the highest percentage of students averaging “A” level grades in school, while at or above the mean drinkers consistently had the highest percentage of students averaging “C” level grades in school.
- At or above the mean drinkers reported the most negative academic consequences resulting from impediments in their lives (such as the flu or concern for a friend) than did below the mean and non-drinkers (including Lake Superior College students).
- At or above the mean drinkers were the most likely to be tobacco users at all three colleges. They were also the most likely to be involved with marijuana and other drug use at UMD and St. Scholastica, while nondrinkers were the least likely to be involved with these activities.
- At or above the mean drinkers were the most involved in sexual activity, and nondrinkers were the least involved in sexual activity. Additionally, at or above the mean drinkers tended to use contraceptive measures, especially condoms, during sexual activity more than below the mean drinkers, who in turn tended to use them more than nondrinkers. Paradoxically, at or above the mean drinkers also reported the most instances of sexual activity that resulted in unplanned pregnancies, although the number of students that experienced this was very low (between one and three per population).
- At or above the mean drinkers tended to report the highest levels of physical ailments and illnesses, such as strep throat and sinus infections, while nondrinkers tended to report the lowest levels of ailments and illnesses. Between 30% and 60% of students from each school reported experiencing back pain.
- At or above the mean drinkers consistently reported drinking alcohol more frequently, in greater quantities, and for longer periods of time than did the below the mean drinkers.
While many similarities can clearly be drawn between alcohol users and nonusers on these three campuses, it must be noted that intervention and prevention strategies aimed at lessening the harm caused by heavy alcohol consumption should not be “one size fits all.” They must be tailored to individual institutions and environments. But with an understanding of generalities regarding heavy and nondrinkers, these efforts are afforded a common starting ground and a good place for multi-institution efforts to begin. With implementations of prevention and intervention efforts on the three campuses will come a greater understanding of what each campus needs, which could lead to the beginning of truly unique efforts tailored to specific populations and institutions.