Understanding a traditional college celebratory drinking event: participation, perception and prevention.

Author:Bruce, Susan
Position:Report - Letter to the editor

Dear Editor,

Binge/hazardous drinking is one of the most significant health problems in the American college community, placing students at an increased risk of violence, injury, accidents and death (Hingson, Zha, & Weitzman, 2009). The National Institutes of Health (2004) defines binge drinking as "a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 gram percent or above." For most adults, this BAC is achieved after consuming five or more drinks (men) or four or more drinks (women) within a two-hour period. Over a third (34.6%) of college students report consuming five or more drinks in one sitting within the past two weeks (American College Health Association, 2014).

Only fairly recently has attention focused on hazardous drinking practices occurring on celebratory occasions. During some holidays (e.g., Halloween, St. Patrick's Day) and occasions (e.g., home football games) a greater proportion of students drink, and they consume alcohol in greater quantities compared to a typical weekend night (Neighbors et al., 2011; Glindemann, Wiegand, & Geller, 2007). Celebratory drinking presents a unique danger in that individuals often deviate from their typical drinking behavior and may not recognize the increased risk of higher blood alcohol concentrations.

At a large public university in the southeastern United States, a tradition of dangerous drinking prior to the last home football game has developed over a period of several decades. This celebratory drinking event (CDE) involves undergraduate seniors attempting to consume a fifth of liquor (750 ml) on the day of the last home football game. For nearly two decades, the university has worked with students to implement a variety of educational programs and media campaigns to reduce participation in this tradition. These initiatives focus on delivering messages about healthy social norms, providing tangible incentives for students who pledge not to attempt to drink a fifth of liquor and promoting healthy ways to celebrate the last home football game through a free breakfast for seniors and a 5K foot race.

The goals of this study were to 1) identify the demographic groups most likely to participate in the CDE, 2) learn more about specific drinking behaviors, protective behaviors and consequences associated with this tradition and 3) identify which campaign elements were correlated with reduced participation levels.

The study was approved by the university's Institutional Review Board. The university's Office of Institutional Assessment and Studies drew a random sample (n = 1,898) of seniors (approximately 52% of the class), stratified by ethnicity and oversampled for men. On the day after the last home football game, we emailed these students a description of the study and a link to the online survey. Two email reminders were sent in the two weeks following the initial email invitation.

We used a 22-item behaviors and perceptions survey, originally developed in 2006, which has been revised annually based on student feedback (Foster, Bass, & Bruce, 2011). Each survey question was tested for item clarity by using focus groups drawn from the target population. To address validity concerns, several key survey items parallel items in national survey instruments. These include questions about negative consequences from the CORE Alcohol and Drug Survey (Presley, Meilman, & Lyerla, 1994), questions about protective behaviors from the American College Health Association (2014)'s National College Health Assessment and questions about...

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