Cancer Fears Could Curb College Binge Drinking

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On college campuses throughout the U.S. binge drinking is a problem. College students with little experience drinking can cause headaches for college towns in a variety of ways and alcohol poisoning claims the life of college students on a yearly basis.

Universities have come up with a variety of ways to combat binge drinking, from banning alcohol on campus to rewarding students for staying sober. Now it seems that stoking students' own fear of an early death might be the right messaging to help curb college binge drinking.

A new study being presented at the 64th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association shows that messaging that emphasizes the risk of alcohol-related cancers results in students rethinking their ambitions to reach the bottom of every bottle.

The study's authors presented college students with risk messaging highlighting the rates of cancer attributable directly to alcohol consumption. The messaging was found to influence the students' intentions to binge drink dramatically, but only significantly when the information was presented in a visual way using tables and graphs.

"Binge-drinking among college students has been recognized as one of the most serious public health concerns for over a decade," said Cindy Yixin Chin, a co author of the study and a communications researcher at the University at Buffalo. "The current alcohol-prevention campaigns generally focus on consequences of binge-drinking, such as DUI, unintended injuries, death, or a series of health and psychological problems. These negative consequences are well-known, and students hear these repeatedly, which may incur message fatigue. The risk messages we designed focused on the cancer incidence rates attributable to drinking. This is an innovative approach in message design, as not many college students know the association between drinking and cancer."

Chin and her colleagues believe this is the first study to look at how alcohol-related cancer messaging might be used to influence student binge drinking behaviors. Previous studies have examined student intentions in the face of messaging about hangovers, drunk driving, blackouts, and risky sexual encounters.

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