- Heavy drinking on college campuses across America is a pervasive problem.
- New findings link "thirsty Thursday" drinking with the presence and timing of Friday classes.
- Study authors recommend early classes - before 10 a.m. - to help reduce excessive drinking.
Results are published in the July issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
"Roughly 78 percent of the freshmen in our study reported drinking alcohol in the previous three months," said Phillip K. Wood, lead author and professor of quantitative psychology in the department of psychological science at the University of Missouri-Columbia. "This number jumped to 85 to 90 percent when most students attained legal age in the third year of the study. It appears that this drinking, when it occurs, is heavy."
Wood said that men who drank at least one drink on Thursday consumed on average between six to 7.5 drinks as a function of Friday-class schedule, while women consumed on average between four and five drinks. Binge drinking - defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women - was also dramatic when results were broken out as a function of class schedule: " ... between 50 and 70 perent of students who consumed at least one drink on Thursday reported binge drinking," he said.
"Heavy drinkers not only harm themselves, but others as well," said Ralph Hingson, director of the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Drinking by 18- to 24-year-olds [leads to more than] 1,800 deaths annually, nearly 700,000 assaults annually by drinking college students, nearly 100,000 date rapes perpetrated by drinking college students, [and] half of those who die in crashes involving drinking drivers 18 to 24 are people other than the drinking driver." In 2002, a national task force suggested that Friday classes and exams could reduce Thursday night partying. However, this recommendation was based on comments made by college administrators and students, not empirical data. This study, said Wood, is the first to look at the timing of classes on Friday, the day of the week on which drinking occurred, and to assess students in this way for several years.
Researchers recruited 3,341 volunteer undergraduates (56% female, 90% non-Hispanic white) at a large Midwestern public university. Precollege paper-and-pencil and web-based surveys administered in the fall and spring semesters across four years of college were merged with student academic transcripts and university academic schedules. Additional measures included self-reports of drinking during the previous week for each of eight semesters; participation rates ranged from 66.5 to 74 percent across follow-up requests for information.
"We found significant relationships between the presence and timing of Friday classes and Thursday drinking," said Wood. "About half of the students with late or no Friday classes consumed at least one drink on Thursday, but only a third of students did so if they had Friday classes which met at 10 a.m. or earlier. Approximately two-thirds of students who consumed some alcohol Thursday consumed a 'binge amount' if they had late or no Friday classes. The Friday-class effect was more pronounced for populations which we know to be at risk for higher levels of alcohol consumption: men, and members of or frequent participants in Greek activities. We also found strong evidence that Thursday, in addition to Friday and Saturday, is associated with high prevalence and levels of alcohol consumption across all four years of college."
Both Wood and Hingson suggested that requiring students to attend Friday classes might reduce their drinking, particularly early classes: those before 10 a.m.
"Many students, particularly freshmen and sophomores, are required to take core classes," said Wood. "Early undergraduates may not have much choice if core classes were only available on Friday. Or perhaps it would be cost effective to offer students cheaper tuition if they elect to take early Friday (and Saturday) classes. For faculty, there appear to be two issues. First, I was surprised to learn that some faculty have a day of the week that they use for consultation or other research. I would think that this day could just as easily be more evenly distributed across the week. Faculty could also be positively induced to teach more early Friday classes in return for additional instructional support, partial release from other academic service obligations, or even salary considerations."
In summary, said Wood, university administrators should seriously consider increasing the number of Friday classes, either overall, or specifically for individuals who are at high risk for problem drinking. "Given that men and Greek participants show a stronger Friday-class effect," he said, "these are precisely the folks who should be targeted."
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Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER) is the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism. Co-authors of the ACER paper, "College Student Alcohol Consumption, Day of the Week, and Class Schedule," were Kenneth J. Sher and Patricia C. Rutledge of the University of Missouri - Columbia, and the Midwest Alcoholism Research Center. The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.