Drinking Away Anxiety: New Program Finds Safer Ways For College Students To Cope
Researchers from the University of Cincinnati are reporting on a pilot program aimed at curbing alcohol abuse among college students. Early promising results from this intervention program were presented Nov. 18 at the annual conference of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies in Philadelphia.
Principal investigator Giao Tran, UC associate professor of psychology, says the program was geared toward college students who turned to drinking to keep the edge off their anxiety at social gatherings.
Tran, along with Joshua Smith, a graduate student for the UC Department of Psychology, and Kevin Corcoran, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of psychology at Northern Kentucky University, developed a program that used motivational interviewing and behavioral therapy to help socially anxious undergraduates curb tendencies that could resort to hazardous drinking.
Tran says college students who abuse alcohol can encounter problems in four key areas:
- Neglecting responsibilities which can take a toll on grades as well as job performance
- Dangerous behavior such as drinking and driving
- Significant interpersonal problems such as getting into arguments and physical confrontations
- Legal problems
The challenge, Tran says, is motivating the student to get help. She adds that previous research has found that social anxiety was a unique predictor of alcohol dependence among adolescents. Research from UC psychologists has found that college students are more likely to seek help to relieve their anxiety over reporting a drinking problem.
The pilot program addressed both issues, as students were recruited into the program after reporting at least one heavy drinking episode (four or more drinks for women, five or more drinks for men), occasional to frequent drinking problems and discomfort from social anxiety in the month before entering this program, which resulted in 22 participants.
The intervention program consisted of three sessions (one session per week, running about an hour-and-a-half) with the first session exploring the participant’s history of social anxiety and alcohol use and personal feedback on how the two could be interlinked. The second session examined social anxiety, drinking-related problems and family risk factors for both problems. The third session involved role-playing in a social situation with a research assistant, which provided the student with tools to effectively cope with anxiety while managing alcohol consumption. Follow-up meetings were conducted one month and four months after the series of three sessions.
Tran says in the follow-up sessions, students reported a significant reduction in number of drinks consumed and in bouts of heavy drinking. Students also reported that they weren’t as fearful about being judged negatively by their peers, a common trigger for social anxiety. There was also a significant increase in the students’ confidence about turning down a drink around other people who were drinking.
“While prior studies have shown that a brief intervention using motivational interviewing helps reduce alcohol consumption or alcohol-related problems among college students, this study is the first to add strategies for coping with social anxiety in relation to alcohol intervention for college students,” says Tran.
Based on the preliminary results of the intervention program, Tran says UC researchers are now seeking additional funding to conduct a large-scale clinical trial on the findings.
J Stud Alcohol. 2004 Nov;65(6):715-24.
Alcohol use, cognitive correlates of drinking and change readiness in hazardous drinkers with high versus low social anxiety.
Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Science, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org
OBJECTIVE: Prevalence data and theoretical models suggest that socially anxious individuals comprise a significant subset of college hazardous drinkers and may benefit from brief interventions for both alcohol and social anxiety problems. The present study compared hazardous drinkers who have high social anxiety (HD-HSA) with hazardous drinkers who have low social anxiety (HD-LSA) in drinking and psychological characteristics that may distinguish the two drinker groups and inform development of group-specific interventions. METHOD: After completing a self-report assessment battery, 152 hazardous drinkers (51% men, median age = 19) were selected from an undergraduate volunteer sample on the basis of their scores on an alcohol screen. HD-HSA (n = 76) and HD-LSA (n = 76) were hazardous drinkers who scored in the top third and the bottom third, respectively, of the volunteer sample on a social anxiety measure. RESULTS: HD-HSA reported greater expectancies that alcohol reduces social anxiety and lower alcohol refusal self-efficacy in social drinking situations than HD-LSA did. HD-HSA also tended to report more frequent heavy drinking in negative affect situations, but the groups did not differ in consumption quantity, heavy drinking in positive affect situations or hazardous drinking levels. HD-HSA reported greater interest in attending a social anxiety workshop and showed a trend towards having stronger interest in an alcohol workshop than HD-LSA did, although the sample’s overall readiness to change alcohol behaviors was low. CONCLUSIONS: Study findings highlight the importance of situational specificity in alcohol assessment and suggest a need to develop group-specific interventions for college hazardous drinkers with high versus low social anxiety.
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