New research suggests that helping college students drink responsibly involves convincing them it can improve their health, relationships and grades.

At the same time, researchers found that sustaining responsible drinking behavior takes a comprehensive set of supports.

For the study, researchers surveyed nearly 300 college students who self-reported binge drinking within the last 30 days. The students were asked to answer questions on their willingness to initiate and sustain responsible drinking habits as well as which factors they believed would be most helpful to that process.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

“Prior studies have shown that convincing people to change their behavior requires a comprehensive approach,” says Manoj Sharma, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., a professor of behavioral health at Jackson State University and lead researcher on this study.

“As difficult as it is for people to adopt new behaviors, it is even harder for them to sustain those changes.”

Surveyed students indicated that initiating a change to drink responsibly or abstain from drinking would first require them being convinced of the immediate advantages to health, relationships and grades.

In addition, the concept of self-efficacy plays a role as participants noted that confidence in their ability to change would be necessary for change. And, change in this situation includes a belief in themselves or a higher power — well as a change in their physical environment, such as moving out of a fraternity house where drinking is prevalent.

The requirements for sustaining responsible drinking or abstinence leaned more heavily on actions than beliefs. Respondents said keeping a diary or utilizing an app that helped track drinking habits would help monitor their consumption.

They also said adopting new habits like exercise or other positive behaviors would help them avoid heavy drinking in response to emotional triggers. Finally, those surveyed indicated that recruiting friends and family for emotional support would help ensure they maintain responsible drinking habits.

“Having identified these core supports, we can now design precision interventions that can be implemented by physicians, colleges, even parents,” said Sharma. “Anyone can apply these principles to create a lasting positive change.”

The study also analyzed participants’ overall willingness to initiate and sustain responsible drinking habits or abstinence. Compared to men, women were 38 percent more willing to initiate or try responsible drinking and 49 percent more willing to sustain those habits.

Non-white college students were 41 percent more willing to initiate responsible drinking behaviors than whites and 96 percent more willing to sustain those habits.

Each group also expressed higher degrees of willingness to initiate change than to sustain those new behaviors. Men’s willingness to sustain a behavioral change was 32 percent lower than their willingness to initiate responsible drinking. Women expressed a slightly smaller reduction of 27 percent.

Most striking, when compared to whites, who overall had a 33 percent reduction in willingness to sustain responsible drinking, non-whites had only a seven percent reduction in willingness to sustain those habits.

“Drinking is less of an accepted cultural norm among women and non-whites, and so those groups are more inclined to change their behaviors,” Sharma noted.

“Convincing white men to adopt more responsible and moderate levels of drinking appears to be the bigger challenge at this point.”

Source: American Osteopathic Association/EurekAlert