The College and Noncollege Experience: A Review of the Factors That Influence Drinking Behavior in Young Adulthood

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Objective: To place college drinking within its larger developmental context, we reviewed studies that compare drinking behavior among college students with that of their age-matched non-student peers. Among the recurrent themes identified across these studies, we particularly noted discrepancies in the conceptualization and operationalization of both college status and noncollege status. These discrepancies, and other methodological variations, were then examined because they influence conclusions about drinking outcomes.

Method: Eighteen studies directly comparing college students with nonstudents were reviewed.

Results: College students drank more than noncollege peers and, in general, drank more frequently than did noncollege peers, although these differences were likely the result of factors other than college attendance itself. Younger people drank more than older peers in both groups. College students also tended to be more at risk for alcohol-related problems, including alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, again likely the result of factors other than college attendance per se.

Conclusions: This review highlights the lack of consensus in the conceptualization and operationalization of college and noncollege status across studies, as well as the importance of variables such as living situation, age, full-time and part-time status, and type of college, which may be more directly related to variations in alcohol consumption than is college status itself. Future investigations of college drinking should place this phenomenon within the larger context of developmental processes associated with this time of life.

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Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, v. 71, issue 5, p. 742-750