Abstract: Exploring the Association between Alcohol and Marijuana Use and Secondhand Effects with Rural College Students (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

342P Exploring the Association between Alcohol and Marijuana Use and Secondhand Effects with Rural College Students

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Meri Stiles, PhD, Associate Professor of Social Work, Daemen College, Amherst, NY
Christopher Rice, PhD, Retired Professor of Social Work, Florida International University, Miami, FL
Background and Purpose: The negative impact of substance use for college students is not limited to the personal consequences associated with active use. Other research reports that 60% to 84% of college students have experienced secondhand effects (Cabalatungan & McCarthy, 2015; Enser, Appleton & Foxcroft, 2017) that is, substance use related harm to people other than the person using substances (Giesbrecht, Cukier & Steeves, 2010). Experiencing harms (i.e., personal or secondhand) from substance use is associated with mental health problems (Patton, et al., 2002; Thompson et al., 2017) and poor academic achievement (Cabalatungan & McCarthy, 2015; Perkins, 2002) for college students. This study investigated the association between secondhand effects and personal consequences with substance use in a sample of rural college students. The study extends the body of secondhand effects research by (a) investigating the association of marijuana use with the experience of secondhand effects; (b) examining the association of onset risk of substance use (<18 years old) with the experience of secondhand effects; (c) exploring the multiplicity of experienced effects associated with substance use by employing a four category typology that exhaustively represents exposure to secondhand effects and personal consequences.

Methods:  The student body (n=1,352) at a small rural northeastern college were invited by email to participate in the study. Data were collected in a cross-sectional design using the CORE survey. Respondents (n=412) were 55.1% women, 92.2% white/non-Hispanic, and had a median age of 20 (range:17-52).   

Results:  Bivariate and multiple regression analyses were performed. The majority of students (90.3%) experienced harms from substance use, with 15% reporting only secondhand effects, 28.5% only personal consequences, and 46.8% reporting both secondhand effects and personal consequences. Residing on-campus, onset risk, and past 30-day alcohol or marijuana use correlated with experiencing personal consequences and the combination of secondhand effects and personal consequences. There was no difference between substance users and non-users on the likelihood for experiencing secondhand effects only, yet 15% of respondents indicated exposure to secondhand effects. This finding is important because students who are not currently engaged in substance use behaviors are nonetheless at risk of harm from others’ substance use. Furthermore, secondhand effects are likely to compound the harm for substance users because they often experience both secondhand effects and personal consequences.     

Conclusions and Implications: Promoting students’ health and well-being suggests concern for the impact of harms from substance use. Many students in our sample (64.1%) had acquired substance use behaviors prior to coming to campus (i.e., early onset risk). Having acquired substance use behaviors those students seek to maintain the behaviors. Simply targeting problematic users doesn’t address the issue of cultural norms that help students maintain their acquired substance use behaviors. Shifting campus substance use culture as well as addressing the need for changing the substance use behavior patterns of individual students is suggested. College prevention programs need to systematically promote activities designed to interrupt the maintenance of substance use behaviors. Several such approaches are discussed.