The study in question aimed to ask the question “Among kids who went to college, did college hurt them or protect them in terms of adult substance abuse?” While it is commonly thought that college is a dangerous environment in terms of drugs and alcohol, the findings of this longitudinal study show an interesting possibility; attendance to college may in fact reduce the likelihood of alcohol abuse.
Over one thousand high school seniors who had taken part in the 1979 National Longitudinal Youth Survey were used in the study. This comprehensive survey aimed to assess the college enrolment of the participants one year later, with a further follow-on questionnaire much later in 1994, when the participants in question were in their thirties.
The results of the analysis of this data identified two main groups appearing from the research. More casual, low level or recreational users were characterized as having a relatively lower likelihood of marijuana use, tobacco use or binge drinking. More heavy drinkers were characterized as showing increased chances of binge drinking on a regular basis as well as more frequent smoking.
The end result of this prolonged study showed the opposite of what you might expect: Attendance to college showed reduced chances of alcohol abuse and problems with other drugs in youths that may be otherwise unlikely to enrol due to financial or social factors. It was found that adults were likely to develop issues with problem drinking six times more often if they did not enrol and attend collage, compared to individuals that did attend.
"Hypothetically, if we could send everyone in the United States to college, that would be protective overall and would significantly reduce problematic substance use in adulthood," Researcher Lanza said. "But because it's not the reality that everyone in the United States goes to college, we had to apply our statistical techniques to balance the data. After doing that, we found that college enrolment does not protect against problem drinking, nor does it place individuals at risk for future problem drinking." The use of causal inference in the case of this study has allowed an interesting conclusion that may surprise many; in popular culture college is the place to be for partying and heavy experimentation with alcohol and drugs. The findings that some may benefit statistically from attendance to such a place in terms of lower chances of alcohol abuse is undoubtedly surprising for many.
While it is difficult to draw a pragmatic solution from this (not all young adults have access to college) the resulting correlation drawn from such prolonged research sheds new light on the influence of college on later life in regards to alcohol and drug abuse and dependency.