Assault risk for women who binge drink in college

U. BUFFALO (US) — Young women who steer clear of alcohol while they’re in high school often change their ways when they go to college—and may be at higher risk of sexual assault as a result, research shows.

For a new study published in Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers followed 437 young women from high school graduation through freshman year of college.

Of the women who never drank heavily in high school (if at all), nearly half admitted to heavy episodic drinking—commonly called binge drinking—at least once by the end of their first college semester. Young women who were already engaging in binge drinking in high school continued drinking at similar levels in college.


Binge drinking is linked to students’ risk of sexual victimization—regardless of what their drinking habits had been in high school. Of all young women whose biggest binge was four to six drinks, 25 percent said they’d been sexually victimized in the fall semester. The victimization included anything from unwanted sexual contact to rape.

The more alcohol those binges involved, the greater the likelihood of sexual assault. Of women who’d ever consumed 10 or more drinks in a sitting since starting college, 59 percent were sexually victimized by the end of their first semester.

Even though the perpetrator—not the young woman is to blame—researchers say if colleges can make more headway in reducing heavy drinking, they may be able to prevent more sexual assaults in the process.

“This suggests that drinking-prevention efforts should begin before college,” says lead researcher Maria Testa, a senior scientist at the Research Institute on Addictions at University at Buffalo.

The study also underscores the fact that even kids who don’t drink in high school are at risk of heavy drinking once they head off to college, Testa says.

Parents should talk with their children about drinking before they go to college—whatever their drinking habits have been in high school. “Parents still do have an impact on their kids after they go to college,” Testa says. “Parenting is not over.”

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