Aims In order to examine the degree to which heavy drinking contributes to risks for problems among college drinkers this paper develops and tests a dose–response model of alcohol use that relates frequencies of drinking specific quantities of alcohol to the incidence of drinking problems.
Methods A mathematical model was developed that enabled estimation of dose–response relationships between drinking quantities and drinking problems using self-report data from 8698 college drinkers across 14 campuses in California, USA. The model assumes that drinking risks are a direct monotone function of the amount consumed per day and additive across drinking days. Drinking problems accumulate across drinking occasions and are the basis for cumulative reports of drinking problems reported by college drinkers.
Results Statistical analyses using the model showed that drinking problems were related to every drinking level, but increased fivefold at three drinks and more gradually thereafter. Problems were associated most strongly with occasions on which three drinks were consumed, and more than half of all reported problems were related to occasions on which four or fewer drinks were consumed. There were some important differences in dose–responsiveness between men and women and between different groups of ‘light’, ‘moderate’ and ‘heavier’ drinkers.
Conclusion Many problems among college students are associated with drinking relatively small amounts of alcohol (two to four drinks). Programs to reduce college drinking problems should emphasize risks associated with low drinking levels.