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Spring break: Study suggests how to reduce risky behavior

  • Contact Diane Swanbrow

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—College students who arrange with friends to "get their backs" are less likely to engage in risky spring break behavior, according to a new study.

The University of Michigan study, published this month in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, says about 60 percent of more than 650 college freshmen surveyed reported having an understanding with their friends about using alcohol during spring break.

Nearly 24 percent agreed with friends that they would get drunk and 18 percent agreed with friends not to get drunk. More than half the students said they had no understandings with friends about sexual behavior, while about 16 percent said they had agreed with friends to use a condom if they had sex.

Men were significantly more likely than women to have understandings with friends to engage in risky behavior. For instance, more men than women reported having understandings that they would get drunk on break (29 percent of men compared to 18 percent of women), and four times as many men as women reported that they had an agreement with friends to have sex with someone new (9 percent compared 2 percent). Women were more likely than men to report having understandings about safer behavior, such as agreeing not to get drunk (23 percent of women compared to 14 percent of men). About twice as many women as men reported agreements with friends not to have sex with someone new during break (17 percent compared to 8 percent). However, men were more likely than women to have understandings to use condoms if they had sex (19 percent of men compared to 13 percent of women).

"Students who went on a spring break trip were nearly four times as likely as other students to engage in binge drinking," said developmental psychologist Megan Patrick, lead author of the paper and a Faculty Research Fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR). "Understandings students had with their friends were also important predictors of alcohol use and sexual behavior."

Patrick and colleagues at Penn State surveyed 651 college freshmen both before and after spring break. They were able to control for student behavior before spring break, which was a strong predictor of behavior during break.According to the study, about 31 percent of 651 college freshmen surveyed reported binge drinking during spring break, and about nine percent reported having unprotected sex.

"It's important to encourage young people to talk with their friends about being safe during spring break," Patrick said. "Agreeing that they won't drink too much or have unprotected sex may have an important protective effect. It's also important to talk about looking out for each other in case someone does drink too much."

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Established in 1949, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) is the world's largest academic social science survey and research organization, and a world leader in developing and applying social science methodology, and in educating researchers and students from around the world. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, the American National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest digital social science data archive. Visit the ISR Web site at http://www.isr.umich.edu for more information.