Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Substance Abuse and Dependency Risk: The Role of Peer Perceptions, Marijuana Involvement, and Attitudes Toward Substance Use Among College Students


Todd F. Lewis & A. Keith Mobley, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Source (Journal name, date of publication):

Journal of Drug Education, 40(3), 2010

What was the purpose of this research?

To determine whether certain “risk profiles” of college students can distinguish between college students having low versus high potential for meeting criteria for a Substance Use Disorder.

If applicable, who were the participants, and what were they asked to do?

Participants included 78 (out of 116 referrals) college students recruited from the Substance Information Program from a North Carolina University across two academic years. Students were administered the Alcohol and Other Drug survey and the Substance Abuse Subtle Symptom Inventory for Adolescents-2 (SASSI-A-2).

Major findings or points:

Students who were more likely to meet criteria for a substance abuse disorder were more prone to misperceiving alcohol and marijuana norms than students less likely to be classified as meeting criteria for a substance abuse disorder. In particular, students who view marijuana as a norm was a strong indicator of high risk of meeting criteria for a substance abuse disorder. In addition, being male, a college student who endorsed substance use, and coming from a social system accepting of substance use indicated a higher probability of meeting criteria for a substance abuse disorder.

Major caveats:

Three-fourths of the sample was college freshmen. College freshmen may face unique challenges different than more seasoned college students that may influence different substance use behaviors (e.g., being in a novel setting, conforming to social norms, etc.). The sample size limited the researchers’ ability to measure the effects of socio-demographic variables. For example, the population was mostly white. With such a small sample size the researchers were unable to determine the effects of factors such as ethnicity in relationship to the variables in this study. More research is needed to determine the extent to which ethnically diverse clients experience social norms and substance use as they pertain to the propensity to abuse substances.

What does this research mean for counseling practice, settings, and/or training?

Practitioners might consider further assessing students on college campuses who both report using marijuana and who view peers as using marijuana, as these clients may be more at risk for abusing substances, including substances other than alcohol. College students who score high on measures of substance abuse probability (e.g., variables of the SASSI-A-2), may possess attitudes toward substance use that are difficult to impact. The authors recommend Motivational Interviewing as a way to decrease client resistance by addressing the pros/cons of substance use and gently highlighting discrepancies in behaviors and cognitions in regard to alcohol use and attitudes. Finally, the authors recommend campus programming that support psychoeducational groups to provide students with structure that provides a safe atmosphere and peer feedback to facilitate change.

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