The beginning of college is a period in which increased alcohol use often coincides with greater involvement in romantic relationships. Existing literature yields inconsistent findings regarding the influence of different relationship statuses on drinking behavior, perhaps because these studies have not accounted for recent changes in the way college students engage in dating/sexual relationships. In the current college environment, many students who define themselves as non-daters are nonetheless sexually active, a phenomenon referred to as the 'hook up' culture. The present study sought to address this issue by examining the effects of both relationship status and sexual activity on heavy episodic drinking (HED) among 1,467 college students over the course of their first three semesters. Results indicated that the effects of relationship status depended on whether or not an individual was sexually active. Non-dating but sexually active students reported rates of heavy drinking comparable to students who defined themselves as casual daters, but non-dating students who were not sexually active reported drinking behavior similar to those involved in committed relationships. Further, transitions between low and high risk relationship/sexual activity statuses were associated with corresponding changes in HED. Transitioning into a high risk status was associated with greater levels of heavy episodic drinking, whereas transitioning into a low risk status was associated with decreases in this behavior. Together, results indicate that engaging in nonexclusive dating or sexual relationships may play an important role in the development of problematic patterns of alcohol use during the early college years. These findings have potentially important implications both for future research and for prevention and intervention efforts targeting high risk college drinkers.
- The role of relationship status changes in college students' heavy episodic drinking
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Statement of Responsibility
by Suzanne Zalewski