Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Lisa L. Lindley (Director), Ning Lu, Richard Wilson

Degree Program

Department of Public Health

Degree Type

Master of Public Health


Research has documented that Episodic Heavy Drinking (EHD), defined as consuming four or more and five or more alcoholic drinks per drinking episode among females and males, respectively, is a prevalent risk behavior among undergraduate college students throughout the United States. Moreover, studies have shown that EHD is the leading cause of preventable morbidity and mortality among college students as unintentional injuries, sexual assaults, and unsafe sexual behaviors among this population have been linked to this risk behavior.

Illicit substance use, although often portrayed as a separate risk behavior, is also associated with EHD. Nationally, the most frequently used illicit substance among college students is marijuana. Research suggests that college students who engage in EHD are several times more likely to be current marijuana users or to have used marijuana during their lifetime. Furthermore, EHD has been identified as a predictor of marijuana use and other substances, illicit or otherwise.

With regard to this particular investigation, three specific risk behaviors among undergraduate students at Western Kentucky University (WKU) were the primary foci: 1) the prevalence of alcohol use and episodic heavy drinking (EHD), 2) the prevalence of illicit substance use, particularly marijuana use, and 3) concomitant EHD and marijuana use. In addition, WKU students' personal characteristics and certain behaviors were examined to determine their association with alcohol and marijuana use.

This study was a secondary analysis of data gathered through the Western Kentucky Student Health Assessment (WKU-SHA 2002)administered during the fall semester of 2002. The WKU-SHA 2002 utilized the American College Health Association's (ACHA) National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey instrument to investigate overall health status and health risk behaviors of WKU undergraduate students. It used a cross- ectional, random cluster sampling of 100, 200, 300 and 400 level undergraduate classes held on WKU's main campus.

Results of this investigation were similar to findings reported in current literature. Seventy-three percent of respondents reported consuming alcohol during the last 30 days. Fortysix percent reported engaging in episodic heavy drinking the last time they "partied" and approximately 20% reported using marijuana during the last 30 days. Episodic heavy drinkers were more likely to report 30-day marijuana use than students who did not engage in EHD. Significant associations were reported between risk behaviors and respondents' characteristics.

It is anticipated that the information provided through this investigation may be particularly useful to the planning of future health programs and services designed to address EHD and marijuana use among WKU undergraduate college students.


Public Health

Included in

Public Health Commons