College Students Advised on Drug, Alcohol Health Risks Less Often


A newly-released survey has found that college students are less likely to be warned about the effects of drug or alcohol abuse by their doctors than are their peers who do not attend college.

Researchers discovered that although college students were more likely to participate in binge drinking or driving under the influence than their non-college peers, fewer college students were being made aware of the risks involved.

Coauthor Dr. Ralph Hingson of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, Maryland said that enough evidence existed to suggest that a short screening and intervention in the doctor’s office would reduce the number of alcohol problems present in young people.

“(But) they don’t always happen because providers, physicians, nurses and social workers don’t routinely ask every young person about their drinking, drug use or smoking,” he said.

Researchers for the study began to follow a sampling of over 2,000 high school students in 2009 when the students were in 10th grade.  The students were resurveyed each year through 2012 and 2013 when they were one year past high school graduation.

Students answered questions on the survey pertaining to whether they had seen a doctor within the past year and if they had been counseled concerning their alcohol, smoking or drug use.

According to the results, around 75% of those attending a two or four-year college had not seen a doctor within the past year in comparison with 65% who had not enrolled.

While fewer than half of the students who attend two or four-year colleges had been informed of the risks involved with drinking, smoking or drug use, 53-57% of youth who did not attend college reported the same.

Frequent substance users, or those who drank, smoke, or used drugs at least six times per month, were found to be more likely to be warned of the effects of their actions if they did not attend college.

Overall, only around 20% of participants were made aware that they should either reduce or stop their drinking, smoking, or drug use.  At the same time, over 30% were told they needed to get more exercise, eat healthier, avoid pregnancy and avoid sexually transmitted diseases.

“Despite consistent evidence of the effectiveness of brief alcohol counseling, only a small percentage of young adults are actually receiving brief alcohol counseling from their physicians,” said Emily E. Tanner-Smith of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who was not part of the new study.

Dr. Tanveer Mir, chair of the American College of Physicians’ Board of Regents, suggests that this is because most doctors may believe college students are already receiving counseling in these areas and are already aware of the risks involved.  In addition, physician training does not always suggest that these problems are preventable and treatable, and some doctors may not feel there is enough time during the office visit to address them.