Study: Four-year college students drink more alcohol; two-year students use pot more

Two-year college students don’t drink nearly as much as their four-year college counterparts, but they do smoke a lot more pot, according to a study from Washington State University.

Researchers at WSU said the study examined 517 students between 18 and 23 years old at two- and four-year schools in Washington state. The students in the study filled out confidential online monthly surveys and were paid to participate, both factors that helped keep retention rates high, the study’s authors said.

Four-year college students near Seattle averaged more than seven drinks a week, compared to the three and a half drinks reported by two-year college students.  But two-year college students reported using marijuana more than eight days a month on average, while four-year students reported marijuana use about four and a half days a month.

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"I expected differences in both alcohol and marijuana use among two- and four-year college students, but was surprised by the magnitude of the differences given that the subjects are the same ages," said Jennifer Duckworth, an assistant professor at WSU and lead author of the paper.

More research is needed to understand why, Duckworth said, but "perceptions of peer use" could be a contributing factor.

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"Specifically, four-year students thought their peers drank more than two-year students believed their peers drank, whereas two-year students thought that their peers used cannabis more than four-year students thought their peers did," researchers said.

The study’s authors admit it’s harder to examine two-year college students because they vary more in age and work status and are more likely to be from racial and ethnic minority groups.  

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"We know a lot more about four-year students, at least partly because most of the people doing the research are on four-year campuses," Duckworth said.

The next step, researchers said, is to expand research-based drug and alcohol intervention programs to two-year colleges while also learning more about their populations.