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Alcohol Abuse and Dependence among U.S. College Students

John R. Knight, Henry Wechsler, Meichun Kuo, Mark Seibring, Elissa R. Weitzman, Marc A. Schuckit

Objective: To estimate the prevalence of alcohol abuse and dependence among U.S. college students, and to identify characteristics associated with these diagnoses. Method: More than 14,000 students at 119 4-year U.S. colleges completed a questionnaire that included items corresponding to DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence. Frequencies were computed, and correlations used to identify demographic, drinking and other variables associated with these diagnoses. Results: 31% percent of students endorsed criteria for an alcohol abuse diagnosis and 6% for a dependence diagnosis in the past 12 months. More than two of every five students reported at least one symptom of abuse or dependence. Students who were heavy episodic drinkers were more likely than those who were not to have an alcohol disorder. Students who were frequent heavy episodic drinkers had 13 times greater odds for abuse and 19 times greater odds for dependence. One of every five heavy episodic drinkers was classified with dependence. Few reported seeking treatment since coming to college. Students from heavy drinking college environments were more likely to have abuse and dependence diagnoses. Conclusions: Many college students report behaviors and symptoms that meet the diagnostic standard for alcohol abuse or dependence. In addition to strengthening prevention programs, colleges should implement new strategies for screening and early identification of high risk student drinkers and ensure that treatment is readily available for those with alcohol disorders. (J. Stud. Alcohol 63: 263-270, 2002)