A study at the University of Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions has shown that increased drinking in young women at the time of the transition from high school through the first year of college may result in dangerous physical, sexual and psychological implications.
The study led by Kathleen A. Parks, Ph.D involved a total of 870 incoming freshmen women who participated in the study.
While the positive results of the study indicated that during the first year of college, when many young women increase their drinking, the majority (78 percent) did not experience any victimization. And the negative aspect reflected that among the 22 percent of women, who were victimized, 13 percent experienced severe physical victimization and 38 percent experienced severe sexual victimization.
"This is the first study that we know of that has compared risk for physical and sexual assault among college women based on changes in drinking during this transition period. Clearly, abstaining from drinking is a protective measure. However, young college women should be aware that becoming a new drinker or increasing one's drinking during this transition increases the likelihood of victimization," said Parks, Ph.D.
It was shown in the study that rates of physical and sexual victimization were substantially higher in women who drank alcohol during the first year of college, as compared to women who did not drink. Also, the chances of first-year college sexual victimization considerably increased with each pre-college psychological symptom (i.e., anxiety, depression) and each pre-college sexual partner a woman had.
It was also found that the changes in drinking patterns during the high-school-to-college transition influenced risk for physical and sexual victimization in different ways.
Almost one fourth (27 percent) of the women reported that they abstained from drinking in the year before entering college. While in the first year of college, only 12 percent continued to be abstainers. Amongst them, less than 2 percent reported physical victimization and 7 percent reported sexual victimization, as against in drinkers, 7 percent of whom reported physical victimization and 19 percent, sexual victimization.
It was observed that being a new drinker during the first year of college (15 percent of the women) increased the likelihood of physical, but not sexual, victimization.
It was theorized that new drinkers' social and physical inexperience or lack of tolerance for alcohol and its effects may increase women's impairment when drinking and subsequently, their vulnerability to potential perpetrators or dangerous situations.
These results indicated that a later onset of drinking might be protective against patterns of heavy episodic drinking and some of the associated negative consequences.
Different factors predicted incidents of sexual victimization than incidents of physical victimization.
"The significant predictors of sexual victimization were psychological symptoms during the first year at college, number of consensual sexual partners and increased drinking. Women who have more consensual sexual partners are more likely to encounter a sexually aggressive individual and are more likely to experience sexual victimization. At the same time, women who increased their drinking are more likely to be behaviorally and cognitively impaired and less likely to recognize, avoid or defend against sexual aggression," said Parks.
Women who increased their drinking experienced nearly five negative alcohol-related problems during the first year at college. These included a variety of consequences like inability to do homework or study for a test, passing out or fainting suddenly, engaging in consensual sexual activity that was regretted afterward, physical assault, sexual assault, theft or robbery.
The research results were published in the recent issue of the prestigious Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.