Does Optimism—or a Lack of It—Affect Collegiate Drinking?

An article published recently in Nature Neuroscience entitled, “How unrealistic optimism is maintained in the face of reality” (see for abstract and full citation) suggests one mitigating factors that may shed light on the apparent intransience of collegiate drinking behavior – optimism.
Although neither the article nor the BBC report on it (see speak of collegiate drinking per se, one cannot help but wonder if there is a connection.

“If” a natural propensity to remain optimistic out weighs risk-related information made available to collegiate drinkers via prevention program, PSAs, and/or direct observation of peers and their experiences, then this could be an important factor for those focused on preventing high-risk and dangerous collegiate drinking to consider as they think about the next step in proactive programming targeting collegians.

This may also be a further argument for considering a suggestion I have been advocating, namely that better understanding of the “maturing out” or “aging out” phenomenon that seems to result in third and fourth-year students viewing alcohol as a substance and drinking as a behavior differently than they did when first and second-year students may be the next logical step in prevention efforts. This may be an important step in addressing the apparent intractability of collegiate drinking – see my 2nd and 3rd monographs in the When They Drink series - #2 - “
When They Drink: Deconstructing Collegiate Alcohol Use”  and #3 - “When They Drink: Is Collegiate Drinking the Problem We Think It Is?”

In these two monographs I argue that a student’s understanding of alcohol as a substance and drinking as a behavior is a function of how these symbols of contemporary collegiate life come to be understood by students. That understanding, born in middle and high school, drives collegiate behavior upon arrival at college only to be modified over the first 3 to 4 semester by experience and interaction with upperclassmen, resulting in a more moderate approach to alcohol and its use. This “social constructionist” view of collegiate drinking suggests that if we, as prevention specialists, were to study and better understand the process by which meaning is ascribed to alcohol as a substance and drinking as a behavior, then we would be in a position to affect this process in such a way as to hasten this maturing out process. This could result in expediting the passage from “high-risk use” to social or at least “lower-risk” use in months rather than semester, thereby closing the window of risk out of which so many contemporary collegians see to fall while trying to glean a better view of “the wonder of the college years” they have heard so much about from parents, older siblings, the popular media, etc.

In short, “if” we have a predilection to optimism and “if” this results in down-grading if not ignoring negative information or risk associated with personal behavior, “then” it is likely the prevention field will not move much past the gains it has made in recent years as the result of using current evidence-based strategies. It also means that efforts like BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students) may be successful, in part, because students exposed to such programs have the opportunity to revisit the meaning they had ascribed to “alcohol” and “drinking” moderate the meaning for this icons of contemporary collegiate life and hasten the very maturing out phenomenon that researchers have noted in collegians for years.

What do you think?

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What Is The Best Solution To Get Florida Learners Permit

Taking my Florida drug and alcohol test online seemed like the only way to go because the last thing I wanted to do was spend my free time sitting in a classroom. The course is state-approved by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles AND you can do it from any computer that has an internet connection. This makes it easy to work whenever you have the time and from anywhere that’s convenient and comfortable for you.

The Florida drug and alcohol permit test prep course is broken into 4 units that you can work on in multiple sessions. There is no time limit on the course, so you can work at whatever speed you want and never have to worry about what anyone else is doing; it’s a really nice change of pace from taking classes in school. And being able to log in and out anytime allowed me the freedom to work for 10 minutes or a few hours; whatever I wanted!

Another unique thing about this Florida drug and alcohol test online course is that it comes with a 50-question permit practice test. The practice test really helped me prepare for the DHSMV permit exam because it had questions from past written tests, so I saw some of them same ones on mine. It also means that you won’t have to read the DMV handbook cover to cover, so it saves you a bunch of time.

There is a final exam at the very end of the online drug and alcohol course, but since you can take it as many times as you need there’s no pressure. They even report your completion information directly to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for you, so you can sign up and take your permit test as soon as you want.

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Do Scare tactics Work in Preventing Substance Use?

A readerrecently asked what I thought about a scare tactics campaign initiated by a sheriffin Oregon – see

Theliterature tells us—and has consistently done so now for years—that scaretactics do not work. This, however, does not mean that there is not a place forsuch campaigns in what we do as prevention specialists.

First, whenthe literature tells us that scare tactics do not work, what they report in thediscussion of the findings on which the article is based is that individualswho engage in the high-risk behavior to which the scare tactic refers do not change their behavior as a resultof the scare tactic. So whether it is a “mug shots” campaign referenced above or,my personal favorite, “this is your brain on drugs” (see results in someonedoing things differently on Friday night simply because of having watch/seenthe PSA on Thursday.

We knowthat many (most?) high-risk viewers of such PSA find it easy to disconnect.They either mistakenly believe, “Oh, that will never happen to me because…” or “Wellhe/she/they were just stupid and not careful” or “that is just a stupid video.”Interestingly, the key element in such campaigns is their ability to get folkswho watch who are not the subject ofthe PSA in order to get them to react, which is to say, these are the real intended audience for such PSAs…inthe readers note to me, he included the statement, “(It) may bescare tactic – but it sure got my attention sent me.

We, the viewers, are the audience, notthe drug users in society. When parents/concerned citizens/conservatives/lawabiding adults/victims of drug-related crime/etc. view such PSAs, we aregalvanized and tend to demand that something be done. Frequently this “something”is more related to the “supply side” of the drug issue (interdiction) than the “demand”side (prevention and treatment). Yet there is a role for such PSAs to play inthe work that we as prevention specialists and concerned professionals do toaddress the alcohol and other drug problem that exists in our culture.

The literaturealso tells us that people proceed towards change by passing along a continuumof readiness to make that change. When a high-risk user is in the earlierstages of readiness to change—in the literature this is called a pre-contemplative stage—and exposed to suchPSAs, they DO NOT change because of the PSA message. What they may do, however,is take notice and add the information to an archive of stored info on AOD useand perhaps eventually move to thenext stage on the continuum…contemplation.

Ifpre-contemplation is the capital “D” Denial stage, the “I-don’t-have-a-drug-problem-but-a-drug-solution”stage, then contemplation is the small “d” denial stage, a stage where onebegins to question if what I am doing might just be presenting a problem. Fromhere individuals work through the successive stages of change until they reacha point of “action” and it is here that the user essentially says, “The war isover, I lost; give me the articles of surrender and I will sign.” I will notbore you with the details of how to get from “pre-contemplation to action,” butsuffice it to say that scare tactics may,and I emphasize MAY, play a role.

No one hasever moved from pre-contemplation to action and on to maintenance (maintainingthe change once made) without coming to a point of realizing that “to go ondoing what I have been doing is more of a hassle than to change.” Our challengeas prevention specialists is to expedite that movement through these stages…andscare tactics may be able to play a (small) role in this movement. What scaretactics cannot do, however, is move someone from pre-contemplation—or evencontemplation—to action…it is just too easy to find countless examples ofindividuals who are not experiencing the “problem” the PSA rails against and topoint to them as proof of the PSA’s spurious message.

In closing,I am not “against” scare tactics so much a I do not believe they changebehavior. I believe we must first recognize the limitations of scare tacticsPSA before even considering their utility.  Second, we need to accept that they are at least as focused on upsetting you andme as they are in trying to influence the behavior of high-risk users—do theyintend to get users to stop or “everyone else” to be upset? Third, we need to acceptthat no PSA or campaign based on scare tactics is ever going to keep someonewith a substance use disorder, in and of itself,  from using. There is no “silver-bullet” thatwill bring down the werewolf of addiction. There is, however, hope that we canaffect change and help move someone along the continuum of readiness to change.

To learnmore about the stages of readiness to change, visit:

To read more about a comprehensive plan to addresshigh-risk collegiate drinking, which may serve as a model for affecting any high-risk behavior, visit:

To read more on my views regarding a more comprehensiveunderstanding of collegiate drinking and my thoughts on what is missing from acomprehensive plan to address such, visit:

What do you think?

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