Purpose: To identify person, social group and environmental factors associated with the uptake of binge drinking among a national sample of college students.
Methods: Using self-reported responses of students in the 1999 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, we regressed conceptually important predictors of binge drinking onto a dichotomized variable describing uptake in the freshman year. This was a random sample of full-time undergraduates provided by the registrar at each participant school (n=119). For this study, we analyzed data describing a subset of the total sample comprising first year students aged 19 years and younger, excluding transfers (n=1,894). The student CAS is a 20-page voluntary, anonymous mailed questionnaire containing student reports about their alcohol and substance use, school activities, and background characteristics. Analyses included univariate and multivariate logistic regression adjusting for school response rate and using the Generalized Estimating Equations (GEE) in the Statistical Analysis Software package to handle the within-college clustering due to the sampling scheme.
Results: College students who reported that they were exposed to wet environments were more likely to engage in binge drinking than were their peers without similar exposures. Wet environments included social, residential and market surroundings in which drinking is prevalent and alcohol cheap and easily accessed. Findings held up in multivariate analyses that included variables describing person and social group characteristics. Students who picked up binge drinking in college also were more likely than their peers to report inflated definitions of binge drinking and more permissive attitudes about appropriate ages for legal consumption.
Conclusions: Binge drinking can either be acquired or avoided in college among students who report they did not binge drink in high school. Reducing college binge uptake may require efforts to limit access/availability, control cheap prices and maximize substance free environments and associations.