Fake ID ownership increases risk for alcohol problems among college freshman

Scott Walters, Ph.D.

Scott Walters, Ph.D.HOUSTON (May 5, 2011) – First-year college students who own a fake identification card significantly increase their chance of having alcohol-related problems, according to research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

The study found that fake ID owners were more than twice as likely to experience alcohol-related problems, compared to students who did not own a card. “Owning a fake ID more than doubled the chances a person would experience alcohol-related problems like getting into fights, missing class or driving while intoxicated,” said Scott Walters, Ph.D., lead investigator and associate professor of behavioral sciences at The University of Texas School of Public Health Dallas Regional Campus, a part of UTHealth. Research results are published in the May issue of Addictive Behaviors.

Researchers used data from a large sample of incoming college students from different regions in the country. This was the first study to examine fake ID ownership in a national sample of college students, Walters said.

More than 40 percent of study participants reported engaging in one heavy drinking episode over the last two weeks and 25 percent indicated two or more episodes during the same time frame. Researchers found only 7.7 percent of participants claimed to own a fake ID. “This is one of the most robust findings in college drinking research,” said Walters. “The majority of first-year college students report drinking, and a significant minority report heavy drinking, despite being underage.” In spite of national efforts to curtail drinking, Walters said that most students find alcohol easy to obtain. “Most underage students obtain alcohol from older friends, but our study suggests that a significant number of students are also able to use fake IDs to obtain alcohol.”

Fake ID owners are also more likely to experience alcohol-related problems that directly impact their academic performance and increase their chances of harming themselves or others, according to the study. Males and females were equally likely to own a fake ID and the odds of owning a fake ID were significantly higher for those who intended to join a fraternity or sorority, as well as for those who reported at least one heavy drinking episode in the past two weeks.

The study evaluated the negative consequences of drinking among study participants over the past two weeks on four factors: (1) external harm such as a physical altercation, vomiting or missing school or work, (2) internal harm, including a hangover, memory problems, or passing out; (3) personal relationships harm, which caused the participant to hurt someone’s feelings or become argumentative; and (4) driving shortly after four or more drinks.

Compared to students without an ID, there was an increased likelihood of external and relationship harm as well as, drinking and driving, among fake ID owners. More than 80 percent of fake ID owners said they had experienced at least one alcohol-related problem in the past two weeks. Fake ID owners were twice as likely to report recent intoxicated driving – 21 percent of fake ID owners reported drinking and driving in the past two weeks.

Walters believes all first-year college students should receive some alcohol education during their first semester of college. “Many students have no experience or knowledge of drinking,” said Walters. “Being away from home and having the freedom to make choices causes many students to drink more than they should.”

Research by Walters published in the February 2009 issue of Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that a 45-minute counseling intervention session significantly reduced drinking among a group of heavy-drinking college students. The intervention included a personalized feedback profile that provided students with information to help motivate them to decrease their alcohol consumption. Information such as caloric intake, comparisons to other students on campus, income spent on alcohol, negative consequences of alcohol use and local referral information were provided in the feedback report.

Walters is author of the book, “Talking with College Students about Alcohol: Motivational Strategies for Reducing Abuse.”

Jade Waddy
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