Heavy drinking by some students on U.S. college campuses is well documented; however, much remains unknown about the exact nature of problems caused by this drinking. There are currently three major self-report measures used to assess alcohol problems among college students: the Young Adult Alcohol Problems Screening Test (YAAPST), the College Alcohol Problems Scale (CAPS), and the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index (RAPI). A study in the July issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research creates an alternative measure, the "Brief Young Adult Alcohol Consequences Questionnaire."
- There are currently three major self-report measures used to assess alcohol problems among college students.
- Researchers have created an alternative measure, the "Brief Young Adult Alcohol Consequences Questionnaire."
- Strengths of the new measure include its brevity and application across a range of drinking problems.
"A few self-report measures have been devised specifically to assess alcohol problems in college students such as the YAAPST and CAPS," said Christopher W. Kahler, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University and corresponding author for the study. The 27-item YAAPST includes items traditionally associated with problematic drinking, as well as items that might be especially prevalent in college students; and the eight-item CAPS focuses on two factors, social problems and personal problems. "The 23-item RAPI was developed using younger adolescents ages 12 to 21, but also has been widely used in college populations," said Kahler. "Its items were based upon existing questionnaires used in adolescent and adult research on alcohol problems."
While all three measures had clear strengths, said Kahler, analysis suggested that scales could be better designed for "dichotomous scoring" – that is, symptoms present or absent – and for measuring less severe alcohol problems that are more common.
"There is always a use for improved assessment devices and for those interested in relatively brief assessment of drinking problems in college students," observed Kenneth J. Sher, Curators' Professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri - Columbia. "The new scale appears to be one that potential users should seriously consider. The major utility of the scale is its brevity and good resolution across a range of drinking problems."
For this study, 340 (164 males, 176 females) college students who drank on at least a weekly basis were recruited. Researchers used a statistical technique called "Rasch model analysis" to examine responses to a new 48-item measure, the Young Adult Alcohol Consequences Questionnaire, which was designed for each item to be scored as either present or absent, easing administration and scoring of the instrument.
"We used the Rasch model to identify whether certain questions are redundant with one another, whether all items measure the same general content area, and whether responses to the questions are orderly, that is, do people who say 'yes' to more severe or more rare problems also say 'yes' to less severe and more common problems?" said Kahler.
Analysis produced a final 24-item scale that the study authors say "showed excellent distributional properties, had items adequately matched to the severity of alcohol problems in the sample, covered a full range of problem severity, and appeared highly efficient in retaining all of the meaningful variance captured by the original set of 48 items."
"I believe the major contribution of this paper is both the derivation of a new instrument that holds the potential to be useful for assessing a prevalent problem in college students and, perhaps more important, to illustrate how alcohol researchers can use statistical analyses to improve measurement," said Sher. "The new scale's major strengths are clear. It is very efficient in that it is brief and appears to provide good resolution of individual differences in drinking problems along the entire continuum of problems assessed by the scale. On the other hand, limitations include the relatively little work done on it to date – for example, the scale properties should be examined in more diverse samples of students with respect to variability in age, type of campus, etc. – and the fact that brief measures, by necessity, will not assess every type of problem that may be of interest to the person doing the evaluation. Furthermore, external validation is limited and there is an absence of replication across diverse samples and settings, which could limit intervention recommendations."
"This manuscript simply shows that there is a reliable ordering of alcohol problems in college students that can be efficiently measured," said Kahler. "The measure should be useful in comparing predictors of alcohol problems in college, measuring response to alcohol interventions, and tracking changes in alcohol problems throughout college. The relative ordering of the items is interesting as it may suggest that certain problems are likely to occur earlier in a drinking career than other problems, although this study could not directly test this possibility."
Sher believes the new scale can be used in a number of different applications, including self-assessment, surveillance of alcohol problems on campus, and as a treatment-needs change measure. "More work is required, however, to have a clear sense of the meaning of different scores on the scale," he said.
Kahler and his colleagues plan to continue refining their new scale. "We want to see whether the ordering of items in their relative severity – that is, their relative rarity of occurrence among regular drinkers – reflects a developmental progression," he said. "For example, do certain alcohol problems reliably occur earlier in one's drinking career than more severe problems? If so, this would allow us to monitor the progression of problems among those whose alcohol problems worsen or, conversely, who reduce their drinking."
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