On most college campuses in the U.S. and around the world, unhealthy alcohol use can cause problems for a lot of students.

“World-wide, we see huge issues with students who develop problems with drinking that continue to adulthood, that really have a societal cost to us and it’s really critical to be addressing those early and often, “ said Nicholas J. Horton, Sc.D. at Amherst College.

Horton and co-authors used an online questionnaire to identify students with unhealthy alcohol habits from all seven universities in New Zealand.

“This study was done amongst a sample of students who exhibited fairly moderate to heavy drinking,” he said.

Half the students were assigned at random to receive personalized feedback on their drinking. This included how much they were spending on alcohol each year and their blood alcohol level after drinking. The other students received no personalized feedback.

Five months later, researchers followed up with the students to learn how much they were drinking overall, how many drinks they had each time they drank, the size of each drink and if it affected their school work. Or, if the drinking had caused them any harm.

“The median number of drinks per occasion for students in the intervention group ended up being four drinks per session as opposed to a median of five drinks for the control group,” Horton said.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or “JAMA.”
“There were decreases though not statistically significant on the other outcomes. This gave us some indication that there were modest decreases that were due to the intervention,” Horton said.

Seventeen percent of the students didn’t participate in the follow up and researchers say that may have contributed to the intervention group doing a bit better. While the web-based intervention may help, it isn’t the only approaching to decreasing college drinking.

“We need to be thinking comprehensively about ways to decrease college student drinking, to educate students and this may be part of that but it may not be the whole answer for students,” Horton said.

Researchers say this type of intervention should be used in conjunction with restricting the physical ability and promotion of alcohol use.