Moderation of a parent-based intervention on transitions in drinking: examining the role of normative perceptions and attitudes among high- and low-risk first-year college students

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013 Sep;37(9):1587-94. doi: 10.1111/acer.12126. Epub 2013 Apr 2.


Background: Parent-based interventions (PBIs) are an effective strategy to reduce problematic drinking among first-year college students. The current study examined the extent to which student-based characteristics, derived from the Theory of Planned Behavior, moderated 3 PBI conditions: (i) prior to college matriculation (PCM); (ii) PCM with a booster during the fall semester; and (iii) after college matriculation. The moderator variables included injunctive and descriptive peer norms about alcohol use and attitudes toward alcohol use.

Methods: Using data from a randomized control trial delivered to 1,900 incoming college students, we examined differential treatment effects within 4 types of baseline student drinkers: (i) nondrinkers; (ii) weekend light drinkers (WLD); (iii) weekend heavy episodic drinkers; and (iv) heavy drinkers. The outcome variable was based on the transitions in drinking that occurred between the summer prior to college enrollment and the end of the first fall semester and distinguished between students who transitioned to 1 of the 2 risky drinking classes.

Results: The results indicated that injunctive norms (but not descriptive norms or attitudes) moderated the differential effects of the PBI with strongest effects for students whose parents received the booster. Differential effects also depended on baseline drinking class and were most pronounced among WLDs who were deemed "high-risk" in terms of injunctive peer norms.

Conclusions: Parental influence can remain strong for young adults who are transitioning to college environments, even among students with relatively high peer influence to drink alcohol. Thus, the PBI represents an effective tool to prevent escalation of alcohol use during the first year of college, when risk is highest and patterns of alcohol use are established.

Keywords: Alcohol Attitudes; College Student Alcohol Use; Differential Treatment Effects; Normative Beliefs; Theory of Planned Behavior.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Perception*
  • Risk Factors
  • Students / psychology*
  • Universities*
  • Young Adult