According to researchers at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA), the odds of 18- and 19-year-old college women experiencing sexual aggression are 19 times greater when they binge drink than when they don’t drink.
Binge drinking or heavy drinking was defined as drinking four or more drinks on a drinking occasion.
The finding was based on daily reports of 179 young college women during an eight-week study. The majority of the women, 118 (66 percent of the sample), reported drinking alcohol during the study. Among those who drank, 73 women (62 percent) reported one or more days of heavy drinking. For this particular group of women, heavy drinking translated to, on average, seven drinks.
Reports of aggression were provided by 63 women (35 percent) in the sample of 179. Across the entire sample, a total of 127 days of aggression was reported. Sexual aggression was reported on 26 of these days (or 20 percent of the time). The odds of experiencing sexual aggression were 19 times greater on heavy drinking days compared to non-drinking days. Physical aggression was reported on 16 of the days (or 13 percent of the time). The odds of experiencing physical aggression were 12 times greater on heavy drinking days compared to non-drinking days.
According to Kathleen A. Parks, Ph.D., principal investigator on the study, "Our goal was to investigate the relationships among drinking, aggression and mood. What we found – in the very high odds of sexual and physical aggression on heavy drinking days – indicates major consequences of binge drinking for women that no research study had previously established."
Parks is a senior research scientist at RIA with expertise in women’s substance use and misuse, and alcohol-related victimization of women.
Verbal aggression was reported on 85 of the 127 days of aggression (or 67 percent of the time). The odds of verbal aggression were a little over two times greater on heavy drinking days compared to non-drinking days. This is of some interest because verbal aggression often precedes physical and sexual aggression. When women experienced negative psychological symptoms or moods (described as depression or anxiety), the odds of verbal aggression increased by three times. Furthermore, the odds of alcohol consumption were three times higher for the 24-hour period following involvement in verbal aggression.
The researchers also determined that not all drinking puts women at risk for experiencing aggression. Rather, heavy drinking (consuming four or more drinks per occasion) increased women’s risk for involvement in sexual, physical and, to a lesser degree, verbal aggression.
"These findings provide support for the need to develop intervention programs targeted to this problem," Parks concludes. "In addition, they help define characteristics that put women at increased risk for aggression, regardless of alcohol consumption.
"Women who enter college with a history of experiencing aggression or a history of heavy drinking are at greater risk for later aggression, as are women who experience depression or anxiety while in college."
This study was part of a larger four-year investigation of 995 first-time freshmen college women. It took place during the spring semester of the second year at college when the women were 18-19 years old. Sixty-one percent of the women were white, 15 percent were black, 13 percent Asian and the remaining 10 percent were from other ethnic groups.
A complete report of the study was published in the June issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
Parks conducted this study in collaboration with Ya-Ping Hsieh, Ph.D., data manager and analyst; Clara M. Bradizza, Ph.D., senior research scientist at RIA and research assistant professor of psychiatry in UB’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; and Ann M. Romosz, M.A., project director.
(Source: University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions: August 2008)