Researchers at the University of Buffalo are now suggesting that educating college students about the potential link between cancer and binge drinking could influence their over-indulgence. With about half of all college students nationwide acknowledging that they binge drink, and more than 90 percent of the drinking done under the age of 21 consisting of binge drinking, solutions have long been sought to adequately address the problem. Traditional approaches have relied on warnings about the hazards of behaviors such as drunk driving and unprotected sex but have seemingly had little impact on the epidemic of binge drinking that presents a significant threat to the health of young people.
A new study suggests that educating students about the threat of long-term health effects like cancer, that can result from binge drinking, may be more effective in curbing the disturbing behavior that has become the norm for so many students today.
The study involved 116 students between the ages of 17 and 24. They were asked to answer questions online about whether drinking was associated with an increased risk for cancer, how much of a risk it was, and how much they expected to drink in the upcoming month. They were also shown messages about the risks of cancer associated with alcohol in a variety of formats. Those students who believed that there was a significant risk of cancer associated with drinking were those the least likely to over-indulge.
One explanation for why education about the link between cancer and binge drinking might influence the amount that college students drink is that it would be a novel approach from the same tired messages students have received repeatedly for years about unsafe sex and drunk driving. The study also revealed that using visual aids and specific graphs and statistics, rather than a single approach, may be more effective in getting a message across to students.
The link between cancer and alcohol is real. Approximately 3.5 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. were attributed in some way to alcohol in 2009, and studies suggest that their is a 13 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer for women who drink every day. Alcohol has also been just recently linked to a variety of other specific types of cancer including cancer of the pancreas and liver.
Not all experts agree, however, that educating students about the risk of cancer will curb binge drinking. Some feel that college students are unlikely to be impacted by such messages because they feel invincible at a young age and because the immediate social rewards gained by indulging in such behavior have much more influence on behavior than the threat of disease that could be decades off.
While inducing fear can be an effective way to curb the problem of binge drinking, some say, the fear has to be of something that the college students are currently afraid of, rather than the threat of a possible link between cancer and excessive alcohol consumption far into the future. Joyce Wolburn of Marquette University says that she believes that campaigns that focus on the potential negative social repercussions of excessive drinking and of being a “bad drunk” are likely to be most effective for this demographic.
By Michele Wessel