Early Intervention May Reduce Depression and Alcohol Consumption in College Students

The Brief Behavioral Activation Treatment for Depression (BATD) was implemented during a college orientation of students at the University of Maryland to determine what effect it would have on alcohol use and depressive symptoms. The researchers, from the University of Maryland, College Park, the University of Mississippi and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, recruited 71 freshmen into the pilot study, enrolling them into an orientation class that taught them how to manage stress during their first year at school. The authors said, “College freshman face a variety of academic and social challenges as they adjust to college life that can place them at risk for a number of negative outcomes, including depression and alcohol-related problems. Orientation classes that focus on teaching incoming students how to better cope with college-oriented stress may provide an opportunity to prevent the development of these adjustment problems.” The students participated in two hour classes over a 15 week period. They were evaluated for any depressive symptoms at the beginning of the orientation, during the middle and again at completion of the course and their alcohol use was assessed using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT).

The researchers discovered that compared to the control group, the test subjects reported reduced problem drinking throughout the study. However, the level of depressive symptoms was low throughout, showing very little change, providing inconclusive results. Because of the prevalence of alcohol use among college enrollees, the researchers are pleased with the results of the study. They noted that nearly 8% of college students abuse alcohol and nearly 11% are considered alcohol dependent. “Heavy episodic drinking carries serious consequences and places college students at an increased risk for accidental injury, unplanned and unsafe sex, and a host of social and psychological problems.” They believe their study is important for many reasons. “Importantly, alcohol problems are evident in the early stages of college attendance, suggesting the potential utility and relevance of early intervention.”

Reynolds, Elizabeth K., Laura MacPherson, Matthew T. Tull, David E. Baruch, and C.W. Lejuez. “Integration of the Brief Behavioral Activation Treatment for Depression (BATD) into a College Orientation Program: Depression and Alcohol Outcomes.”Journal of Counseling Psychology (July 25, 2011). Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024634

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • SS


    August 2nd, 2011 at 7:34 PM

    The main reason why young people abuse alcohol is coz they are stressed and for the cool factor…And when this program intervened and actually gave them a helping hand to deal with stress,the young’uns got help without even asking for it.That must be great,as the results seem to show.They did not seek help from a different avenue…read alcohol!

  • val


    August 3rd, 2011 at 4:33 AM

    Those freshman 101 classes are so often made fun of but I think that this clearly shows that some very valuable info can be presented in that setting which can help a student throughout his college career. This is not a class that can be skipped or that should be taken out of the curriculum, but rather emphasized as relevant and important like the other core classes and give these kids some life resources that they can really benefit from.

  • Joseph


    August 3rd, 2011 at 8:19 AM

    This sets a good example and model for colleges to follow for their freshmen.It can get quite hectic and stressful to go to college and you have many issues that you face when youre a freshman so it makes sense to offer them help.It will go a long way to protect the students not only from stress but also from substance abuse due to stress.

  • r bresnan

    r bresnan

    August 3rd, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    its great to have someone or a group hold your hand while you are at a new place and trying to settle down there with the added weight of your academics.
    alcohol dependence has to be a big problem for students because it can come in the way of every aspect of their lives.there is no doubt that we need intervention programs like this but then do we have the funds for such programs all over the country?maybe a partnership between the government and private players would help…?

  • destiny


    August 7th, 2011 at 1:15 PM

    You want to know a foolproof way to prevent excessive alcohol consumption in college kids? Teach them to drink responsibly. None of this intervention rubbish. You have 16, 17, maybe even 18 years or more where you can teach your offspring about responsible drinking. Too few parents do it when the chance to educate them is there, nor lead by example for that matter.

  • Emmanuel A.

    Emmanuel A.

    August 9th, 2011 at 10:19 PM

    College is more stress than it’s actually worth. By the time you’re out, you have a degree that’s no guarantee of a job. You also have enormous bills you’ve accumulated because this country does the bare minimum it can to publicly fund further education. This piles on the mental stress.

    If I had my time over, I’d head straight to the workplace and seek employment at a company that pays for employee’s further education so I don’t start my working life saddled with thousands of dollars in debt.

  • Allen Barger

    Allen Barger

    August 9th, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    @destiny- Agreed, drinking problems stem from irresponsible drinking. Irresponsible drinking comes from a lack of experience with knowing how much alcohol you can handle. If you drink irresponsibly then it’s your own fault, but your parents are to blame too for not teaching you to do it responsibly.

  • Darrell T. Park

    Darrell T. Park

    August 11th, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    @Emmanuel A. – Many companies run tuition reimbursement programs for employees that allow you to do courses that are relevant to your job and will build your skillset, even up to degree level.

    Search “list of jobs that offer tuition reimbursement,even to part time college age students” and you’ll find a large thread at fatwallet. It’s a few years old now (2007) but will still have valuable information on the companies that are open to that.

  • Neil Frazier

    Neil Frazier

    August 11th, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    That’s an excellent list Darrell. Thanks for that. On Boeing for example, it states at that time: “Full reimbursement (full tuition and books, any subject as long as it qualifies for college or continuing education credits, no cap on cost) if you work 20 hours or more per week. My friend had her last year of USC (~ $30,000) paid for while interning. They also provide 100 shares of stock after an undergrad graduation. The stock vests over 3 years. They give 50 shares for a masters or doctorate degree. It’s probably the best or one of the best company education reimbursement plans possible.”

  • Allan D. Jones

    Allan D. Jones

    August 11th, 2011 at 9:47 PM

    I was about to make a retort about how you were wrong until I realized the degrees I got in college and university did absolutely nothing to help me get a job, and also cost me some jobs for being overqualified. Add on all the stress I got in the process…ugh. All a degree really proves is that you’re capable of learning, retaining and regurgitating information. The smartest people I know dropped out.

  • Nicky J.

    Nicky J.

    August 12th, 2011 at 11:04 PM

    There is so much pressure on college attendees it’s amazing most finish it without having a breakdown to some degree during it. However, this is nothing new. It was a problem 40 years ago, it was a problem 20 years ago, and it continues to be a problem 20 minutes ago.

    Easy access to alcohol isn’t helping the problem solve itself either. Where are all the programs that help them combat that? They seem to be meager in number and resources compared to the size of the student population.

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