Page last updated: July 11, 2013
Pre-college talk between parents and teens likely to lessen college drinking

A study From Penn State University illustrated that teenage college students are significantly more likely to abstain from drinking or to drink only minimally when their parents talk to them before they start college, (using suggestions in a parent handbook). The 22-page handbook developed by Robert Turrisi, professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State included an overview of college student drinking, strategies and techniques for communicating effectively, ways to help teens develop assertiveness and resist peer pressure and in-depth information on how alcohol affects the body. (

“Over 90% of teens try alcohol outside the home before they graduate from high school,” said Turrisi. “It is well known that fewer problems develop for every year that heavy drinking is delayed. Our research over the past decade shows that parents can play a powerful role in minimising their teens’ drinking during college when they talk to their teens about alcohol before they enter college”.

The study aimed to determine the best timing and dosage for delivering the parent intervention. Turrisi said, “For timing, we compared pre-college matriculation to after-college matriculation. For dosage, we compared one conversation about alcohol to two conversations about alcohol.”

The researchers recruited 1,900 study participants by randomly selecting incoming freshmen to a large, public northeastern university. Each of the individuals was identified as belonging to one of four groups: nondrinkers, weekend light drinkers, weekend heavy drinkers and heavy drinkers.

Participants completed Web assessments during the summer before college (baseline) and two follow-ups (fall of first and second years). Students were randomized to one of four conditions (pre-college matriculation [PCM], pre-college matriculation plus boosters [PCM+B], after college matriculation [ACM], and control conditions). Seven indicators of drinking (drink in past month, been drunk in past month, weekday [Sunday to Wednesday] drinking, Thursday drinking, weekend [Friday, Saturday] drinking, heavy episodic drinking in past 2 weeks, and peak blood alcohol concentration <.08) were used to examine a stage-sequential model of drinking and the effects of the intervention conditions on changes in drinking patterns.

Results indicated that the PCM condition was most effective at influencing baseline heavy drinkers’ transition out of this pattern to lower risk patterns at first follow-up, whereas the ACM condition was not effective at preventing drinking escalation for baseline nondrinkers at first follow-up. No decay of effects was observed at long-term follow-up for the PCM condition. Increased dosage of the parental intervention was not significantly associated with either reduction or escalation of use.

The study results underscore the value of pre-college parental interventions and targeted efforts to reduce high-risk drinking among college students. “We know that without an intervention there is movement from each drinking level into higher drinking levels,” Turrisi said. “Our results show that if parents follow the recommendations suggested in the handbook and talk to their teens before they enter college, their teens are more likely to remain in the non-drinking or light-drinking groups or to transition out of a heavy-drinking group if they were already heavy drinkers.”

Source: Evaluation of Timing and Dosage of a Parent-Based Intervention to Minimize College Students’ Alcohol Consumption. Rob Turrisi, Kimberly A. Mallett, Michael J. Cleveland, Lindsey Varvil-Weld, Caitlin Abar, Nichole Scaglione, Brittney Hultgren. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs Volume 74, 2013 > Issue 1: January 2013.

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