Heavy drinking among emerging adults (18-25 years) is a major public health issue that has garnered substantial attention in recent years, contributing to increased efforts to develop effective prevention programs (NIAAA, 2002). Although several prevention approaches have demonstrated positive effects, the magnitude of these effects is typically quite small, suggesting that alternative or complementary approaches are needed. Most prevention programs for emerging adults seek to reduce known risk factors for heavy drinking, with relatively little attention devoted to the identification of factors that promote responsible drinking, or that protect against established risk factors like peer influence. Examples of potential promotive/protective factors include self-regulation skills, religiosity, parental influence, personal values, and engagement in school and the community. Although there is limited research on promotive/protective factors in emerging adults, there is a substantial literature on these influences in adolescents, and this knowledge base has been effectively applied to the development of novel prevention approaches. Programs that bolster promotive and protective factors might have similar utility among emerging adults, but a comprehensive understanding of these influences in emerging adults is needed to inform the development of such programs. The proposed study seeks to develop this knowledge base through secondary analysis of six years of prospective data from a sample of college students and a cross-sectional sample of non-college peers. The proposed project will address the following major research aims: (1) identify major classes of promotive/protective factors against heavy drinking and related problems in emerging adults;(2) identify main effects of promotive factors and moderation of risk factors (e.g. protective factors) in the prediction of alcohol use and problems;(3) identify main effects of promotive factors and moderation of risk factors in the prediction of changes in drinking behavior and problems (trajectories) from late adolescence through emerging adulthood;and (4) develop a novel prevention program for incoming college freshmen that seeks to bolster promotive/protective influences. The proposed study will advance the field in several important ways. First, this study will be among the first to simultaneously examine well established risk factors and a wide range of promotive/protective influences during this critical developmental period. In addition, this will be the first such stud to utilize longitudinal data that spans multiple years (six years) from late adolescence into emerging adulthood using state of the art statistical approaches (latent-growth curve modeling). Further, the large and diverse sample of both college and non-college emerging adults will allow us to examine the generalizability of the findings to emerging adults who differ with respect to gender, race/ethnicity, and student status. Finally, the knowledge gained through this study will be directly applied to the development of a novel prevention program for first year college students. This program will be designed to strengthen identified promotive/protective factors in this high-risk population.
Heavy drinking and related problems among emerging adults are major public health concerns, and although increased focus on prevention programs targeting this population has resulted in identification of effective approaches, effect sizes are generally small. Research on promotive/protective factors that reduce risk for heavy drinking has led to significant advances in adolescent alcohol prevention but there has been limited effort to understand and target promotive/protective factors in emerging adults. The proposed research seeks to develop a more comprehensive understanding of promotive/protective influences on drinking outcomes and initiate development of a strengths based prevention approach for college students.