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Interventions may mitigate underage student drinking, study suggests

As educational leaders at schools such as Boston University ponder methods of mitigating the ever-present dilemma of underage student drinking, a study released Thursday suggests interventions may be an effective solution.

The study, which was conducted by professors at Brown University, evaluated the various methods of intervening in students’ excessive drinking habits in order to select which were the most effective at controlling student alcohol consumption, said Lori Scott-Sheldon, a psychiatry and human behavior professor at Brown University and author of the study.

“This study looked at any intervention with a group of students who were given an intervention compared to a group who were given a controlled condition to see whether an intervention really worked,” Scott-Sheldon said. “The research showed that [a personalized intervention] actually does work, which is great news. If we give first-year students an intervention, they can reduce their alcohol use and their alcohol-related problems.”

Students who participated in interventions were provided with different types of feedback, such as informational reports of drinking patterns among Americans.

“Students are given a report of their drinking behavior compared to either women in their same university or women across the United States, for example,” she said. “It’s a nice way to show them how much they’re drinking, how their drinking behavior differs from other people, either at their university or in the United States or other universities within the United States.”

Scott-Sheldon said when students were shown their peers were consuming significantly less alcohol than they were consuming, they became more aware of the extremities of their drinking.

“Especially those students who are already drinking at high levels, it shows them that really, most students aren’t drinking at high levels,” Scott-Sheldon said. “… Alcohol is ubiquitous at school, so people often think others are drinking more than they actually are. Just being made aware that they’re drinking more than their peers may be enlightening.”

Soum Das, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, said students are usually indifferent to alcohol education initiatives, especially due to the temptation to drink at college parties.

“People would shrug off a personalized education on alcohol,” Das said. “… It hasn’t really affected me, but then again I’m a guy and alcohol awareness is usually directed towards girls.”

Nicholas Maresco, a College of Engineering freshman, said BU’s alcohol education program was informative, but ultimately futile in slowing the drinking habits of his fellow classmates.

“AlcoholEdu was a good attempt to teach you something you didn’t know before, but at the same time, from what I’ve seen freshman year, it hasn’t really stopped drinking amongst underage kids,” Maresco said. “It was as effective as any other high school health class.”

All BU freshman are required to complete AlcoholEdu, an online education program that provides students with information about the risks of alcohol consumption. AlcoholEdu became mandatory for all BU freshmen at the beginning of the Fall 2013 semester.

Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences junior Elpida Velmahos said the presentations at her freshmen orientation were more effective than the online portion of AlcoholEdu.

“I remember during orientation, we had this little sketch,” Velmahos said. “… It was Dean Elmore and other students, and they weren’t necessarily educating us about alcohol. People weren’t just sitting there listening to random facts. It was a lot better than taking an online course asking you ‘what is your blood alcohol level? Click A, B, C or D.’”

Sarah Cobuzzi, a College of Communication senior, said the more colleges caution against alcohol consumption, the more students will be tempted to participate in underage drinking.

“It’s kind of like a forbidden fruit type of situation,” Cobuzzi said. “I’ve never been to Europe, but I’ve heard that you can drink younger there. It’s not really a big deal when you become of age and you’re legally allowed to drink, but people just go crazy on their 21st birthday here, even before that because people tell them they can’t.”

Sophia Goldberg contributed to the reporting of this story.

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