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Front Psychiatry. 2015 Oct 27;6:152. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00152. eCollection 2015.

Patterns of Substance Use Across the First Year of College and Associated Risk Factors.

Author information

1
Department of African American Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University , Richmond, VA , USA.
2
Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University , Richmond, VA , USA.
3
Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcome Science, Virginia Commonwealth University , Richmond, VA , USA.
4
Department of African American Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University , Richmond, VA , USA ; Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University , Richmond, VA , USA ; Department of Human and Molecular Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University , Richmond, VA , USA.

Abstract

Starting college is a major life transition. This study aims to characterize patterns of substance use across a variety of substances across the first year of college and identify associated factors. We used data from the first cohort (N = 2056, 1240 females) of the "Spit for Science" sample, a study of incoming freshmen at a large urban university. Latent transition analysis was applied to alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and other illicit drug uses measured at the beginning of the fall semester and midway through the spring semester. Covariates across multiple domains - including personality, drinking motivations and expectancy, high school delinquency, peer deviance, stressful events, and symptoms of depression and anxiety - were included to predict the patterns of substance use and transitions between patterns across the first year. At both the fall and spring semesters, we identified three subgroups of participants with patterns of substance use characterized as: (1) use of all four substances; (2) alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis use; and (3) overall low substance use. Patterns of substance use were highly stable across the first year of college: most students maintained their class membership from fall to spring, with just 7% of participants in the initial low substance users transitioning to spring alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis users. Most of the included covariates were predictive of the initial pattern of use, but covariates related to experiences across the first year of college were more predictive of the transition from the low to alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis user groups. Our results suggest that while there is an overall increase in alcohol use across all students, college students largely maintain their patterns of substance use across the first year. Risk factors experienced during the first year may be effective targets for preventing increases in substance use.

KEYWORDS:

college students; early adulthood; latent transition analysis; risk/protective factors; spit for science; substance use

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