SUNDAY, Jan. 6 (HealthDay News) -- The first on-the-scene study of college drinking behavior shows that parties with drinking games result in higher blood alcohol levels, while themed parties encourage college women to drink more heavily than men, new research suggests.
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Previous studies of college drinking have relied largely on individual behavior and self-reports of drinking habits. Researchers at San Diego State University and the University of Michigan have determined that environment and party activities also affect drinking behavior.
"Most studies use survey methods that require people to recall their drinking behavior -- days, weeks or months prior -- and such recall is not always accurate," corresponding author J. D. Clapp, director of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Studies and Services at San Diego State University, said in a prepared statement. "By going out into the field and doing observations and surveys, including breath tests for alcohol concentrations, we were able to mitigate many of the problems associated with recall of behavior and complex settings."
The team observed 1,304 young adults (751 men, 553 women) at 66 college parties over the course of three semesters. The parties all took place in private residences close to an urban public university in southern California. The team noted party environment, surveyed attendees and collected blood-alcohol concentrations.
The researchers found that playing drinking games, having a personal history of binge drinking, attending a party with many other intoxicated people, and attending a themed event all predicted higher blood alcohol levels. The researchers expressed surprise over the finding that women at themed events drank more heavily than their male peers.
Students who attended parties with the intention of socializing and people who attended larger parties drank less alcohol.
"From a methodological standpoint, our study illustrates that is possible and important to examine drinking behavior in real-world settings," Clapp said. "It is more difficult than doing Web surveys and the like but provides a much richer data set. Secondly, environmental factors are important. Much of the current research on drinking behavior focuses on individual characteristics and ignores contextual factors. Yet both are important to our understanding of drinking behavior and problems."
The team plans to expand its research to other environments, including bars.
The study was published in the January issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
-- Madeline Vann
SOURCES: San Diego State University, University of Michigan, news release, Jan. 3, 2008
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