Trajectories of Freshmen Alcohol Consumption: Examining the Influence of Drinking Refusal Self-Efficacy

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The misuse of alcohol is a major social and health issue for college students in the United States. Specifically, first-year students are at a higher risk of consuming alcohol than the rest of the college population.

Considerable data suggest heterogeneity in how alcohol use changes during adolescence. New statistical procedures, such as latent class growth analysis (LCGA), are now available that are better suited to study behavior change than earlier applied traditional methods such as regression analysis and structural equation modeling.

This study aimed to reveal alcohol consumption patterns of college freshmen using secondary data and LCGA. A second aim of this study was to examine the influence of drinking refusal self-efficacy (DRSE) on potential trajectories of alcohol use among college freshmen. Data used for this study was collected by a federally funded NIH grant entitled "Peers as Family: Preventing Problem Drinking" and includes longitudinal self-reported data of freshmen alcohol use and DRSE.

Results revealed four distinct types of drinking trajectories among college freshmen. Growth patterns identified had the following characteristics: 1) "Light-stable" drinkers reported drinking very little or no alcohol use across time assessments; 2) "Escalating" drinkers gradually increased alcohol consumption across time assessments; 3) "Moderate increase-decrease" drinkers increased alcohol use between first and second time points and decreased consumption between second and third time assessments; and 4) "Heavy increase-decrease" drinkers shared an identical pattern of consumption as the moderate increase-decrease group only levels of alcohol use were significantly higher at each time assessment.

DRSE was found to significantly (p < .0006) predict membership in all trajectories described above. The light-stable trajectory reported higher levels of DRSE than all other growth patterns, while the heavy increase-decrease trajectory reported the lowest levels of DRSE when compared to all other growth patterns. Study results illustrated that DRSE plays a significant role in explaining why some college freshmen abstain from alcohol use, while others escalate use or drink at high levels over time. Ultimately, this knowledge may facilitate the development of more tailored and consequently effective interventions designed to reduce alcohol consumption on college campuses.