An Online Alcohol and Risky Sex Prevention Program for College Students Studying Abroad

Study Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial

Published in: Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, Volume 14, Article number 32 (2019). doi: 10.1186/s13722-019-0162-4

Posted on RAND.org on September 19, 2019

by Eric R. Pedersen, Elizabeth J. D'Amico, Joseph W. LaBrie, Coreen Farris, David J. Klein, Beth Ann Griffin

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Background

This study protocol describes a proposed randomized controlled trial that builds upon a successful pilot intervention study to address problematic and dangerous drinking among young adult college students studying abroad in foreign environments. Despite universities and colleges citing alcohol misuse as the most concerning issue for their students abroad, most institutions offer no empirically-based prevention efforts tailored to this at-risk population. The proposed intervention attempts to fill a major gap for the nearly 333,000 students completing study abroad programs each year by using empirically-based and theoretically-informed risk and protective factors to correct misperceived peer drinking norms and promote cultural engagement abroad. In addition to preventing heavy and problematic drinking, the intervention seeks to prevent risky sexual behaviors (e.g., sex without a condom) and experience of sexual violence victimization, which are strikingly common among study abroad students and have the potential for lasting physical and psychological effects upon return home.

Methods/Design

We will conduct a randomized controlled trial of an intervention with a sample of 1200 college students studying abroad from approximately 50 US universities and colleges. The brief, online intervention is text and video based and contains evidence-based components of personalized normative feedback to correct students' misperceived drinking norms, content to promote engagement with the cultural experience abroad and address difficulties adjusting to life in the foreign environment, and tips and strategies to prevent risky sexual behaviors and sexual violence victimization abroad. Participants will complete online surveys at five time points (predeparture, first month abroad, last month abroad, 1-month post-return, and 3-months post-return) to assess for intervention effects on drinking behavior, drinking consequences, risky sex, and sexual violence outcomes. We will examine whether the mechanisms targeted by the intervention (changes in perceived norms, engagement in the cultural experience abroad) serve as mediators of intervention efficacy.

Discussion

The proposed study has the potential to fill an important gap in the research literature and provide empirical support for an online accessible, brief, and targeted approach that can easily be distributed to study abroad students to help prevent heavy alcohol use and sexual risk abroad.

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