Methods: A multi-site study of students (N=4843) across six universities was conducted using a web-based survey platform. A convenience sample of undergraduate and graduate students from each university was collected. Childhood adversity (maltreatment, witnessing partner violence among parents, being bullied, and living in communities with high disorganization), dating violence (victimization), and alcohol use frequency and problematic drinking was assessed. Latent classes of childhood adversity and dating violence experiences were tested. Regression analyses examined the association between latent classes and alcohol misuse behaviors, accounting for demographic covariates (age, race, gender, & sexual orientation).
Results: Latent class analysis produced four classes: “experiencing no adversity or violence” (N=2350; 50%), “experiencing peer or community violence only” (N=958; 20.4%), “experiencing peer, community, and parental partner violence” (N=774; 16.5%), and “experiencing peer and community violence, and dating violence” (N=617; 13.1%). Compared to “experiencing no adversity or violence”, those in the “peer, community, and dating violence” class were more likely to report frequent alcohol use (p<.000). When using “peer, community, and dating violence” as the referent, the “peer, community, and parental partner violence” group reported less frequent alcohol use (p<.000). For problem drinking, compared to “experiencing no adversity or violence”, the “experiencing peer, community, and dating violence” (p<.000) and “experiencing peer and community violence only” (p<.000) groups reported more problem drinking.
Conclusion: While there are established links between childhood adversity and dating violence, and childhood adversity and alcohol use in early adulthood, this work highlights the importance of examining cumulative stressors to understand the alcohol misuse behaviors of college/university students. Research and practice must account for multiple risk exposures when intervening with university students, suggesting trauma-informed interventions may be most successful at providing accessible support services, responding to the effects of trauma, and reducing problematic alcohol use among university students.