Attitudes toward harm reduction and abstinence-only approaches to alcohol misuse among Alaskan college students

Int J Circumpolar Health. 2013 Aug 5;72. doi: 10.3402/ijch.v72i0.21143. eCollection 2013.


Background: Harm reduction is a public health approach that aims to guide hazardous drinkers to change unsafe drinking and minimize alcohol-related consequences without requiring abstinence. In contrast, abstinence-based interventions are designed for people with more severe alcohol problems and they aim to eliminate consequences via complete abstinence from alcohol. Current best practices for treating college student alcohol misuse involve harm reduction strategies, but no research has been conducted examining students' perceptions of these strategies.

Objective: Understanding attitudes is critical prior to the implementation of an intervention in a new setting, particularly when attitudes may serve as barriers to treatment enrolment and retention. For this reason, we sought to examine attitudes toward contrasting alcohol misuse interventions among college students in two large public universities in the circumpolar north.

Design: A web-based survey was conducted with 461 students from two public universities in Alaska. Participants completed questionnaires assessing attitudes toward alcohol treatment, current drinking behavior, and demographic information.

Results: Findings indicated that emerging adult (18-25 years old) students who would be targets of future interventions (hazardous drinkers) evidenced more positive attitudes toward harm reduction than abstinence-only approaches.

Conclusion: This research provides support for the implementation of harm reduction intervention strategies for Alaskan college students who misuse alcohol. It is likely that harm reduction will be acceptable in this population.

Keywords: emerging adults; hazardous drinking; treatment strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alaska / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / prevention & control
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Students / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult