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Will lessons in college last?

October 27, 2011
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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An online alcohol prevention course shows promise, but not for full school year

On college campuses, the benefits of an alcohol prevention course taken in the fall semester might not persist into the spring. A study supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has found that other influences, such as students’ ongoing exposure to alcohol, could serve to outweigh the preventive effects of an online alcohol prevention course by the second semester.

Still, the course that was examined in a study published in the September 2011 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine appears to be useful as part of an overall strategy to reduce harmful levels of drinking on college campuses. Most of the five-module course, called AlcoholEdu, is customarily offered to college freshmen in the late summer prior to their entering school.

The topics covered in AlcoholEdu include but are not limited to instruction on the definition of a standard drink; the physiologic effects of alcohol; social influences on alcohol use; and feedback to correct misperceptions about drinking norms on campus.

Mallie J. Paschall, PhD, and colleagues at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation conducted a study involving 30 public and private universities. They compared overall alcohol use and binge drinking outcomes for freshmen who took the AlcoholEdu online course and for those who received typical campus prevention education.

The students who took the multifaceted online course reported significantly lower alcohol use and binge drinking in the fall compared with the control students, but those differences disappeared by the spring semester. Paschall suggested that it is possible that by spring, students’ exposure to alcohol and peers’ drinking might counteract the influence of the course’s messages.

The research team believes that if colleges added environmental prevention strategies to their efforts, including limiting alcohol promotions and raising prices, this could serve to extend the impact of the lessons learned in the online prevention curriculum.