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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Psychology Prof’s Study on Student-Drinking Intervention Getting National Attention

Interventions have long been shown to temporarily reduce drinking among college students.

Old Dominion psychology professor James Henson is lead author of a recently released study that looks at the effectiveness of interventions on different types of people.

Published in the prestigious American Psychological Association's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Henson's study suggests various classes of drinkers need to be treated differently.

"We tend to treat all college students the same with intervention, a one-size-fits-all approach," Henson said. "My research is more about figuring out who is a 'typical' college drinker and how they respond to intervention."

Henson's work is garnering national attention, including National Public Radio, which published its own report on his findings.

Analyzing data on 1,040 students (53 percent male) collected in three studies over the last decade, Henson found 82 percent decreased their alcohol consumption in the first month after undergoing interventions either face-to-face, in a computer lab or online.

But within a year, 84 percent of those students reported they returned to their previous drinking behavior.

Henson also found 11 percent of subjects, mostly male freshmen involved in fraternities, were "intervention resistant."

"This is the type of person we're going to have to do something different or more with," Henson said. "It seems to not be as important what type of intervention people get. It's more important what type of person the intervention is being given to."

Henson's report casts 77 percent of students studied into the "light drinker" category, which he said challenges the idea that the typical college student is a consistent, heavy drinker.

"What we're getting from this is that most students tend to be lighter drinkers who just have episodes in which they drink too much," Henson said.

To combat binges, and to supplement the effects of the original intervention, Henson said he is working with others to develop on-the-spot interventions that can be delivered via cellphone when students begin "a drinking situation."

"The idea is that it's going to help students make smarter choices about how much they're consuming, how often they're consuming and what they're consuming," he said.

Henson writes that previous studies estimate more than a half-million student injuries, including nearly 2,000 deaths and more than 80,000 sexual assaults, occur each year due to college drinking.

A link to Henson's study can be found here.

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