Featured Article: LCA of Substance Use Among College Students

February 11, 2016:lcasubstanceuse

By understanding drug use profiles among college students, intervention designers may be able to target substance-use prevention efforts more effectively. In a new article in Addictive Behaviors, three Penn State researchers, Rebecca Evans-Polce and Stephanie Lanza of The Methodology Center, and Jennifer Maggs of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, use latent class analysis (LCA) to examine use profiles among fourth-year college students of a broad variety of substances, including alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, and traditional and alternative forms of tobacco. They identified some unexpected classes and found that information about a student’s age, gender, and activities predicted their class membership.

Lead author Rebecca Evans-Polce said, “We know that individuals, if they are going to use substances, often use more than one type of substance. This study allowed us to examine important subgroups of individuals in terms of the types of substances they use. We discovered a lot of heterogeneity in terms of the patterns of substance use behaviors among individuals and in terms of what predicted who would be in one subgroup versus another. Some of these subgroups do not fit the traditional stereotype of a ‘substance user’ and thus may be under-recognized in terms of substance-use-prevention intervention efforts. In the future, we hope to examine how an individual might progress from one class to another or how health and education outcomes might differ across the latent classes.”

The authors examined a sample of 608 fourth-year college students from the 2011 University Life Study. They examined seven substance use measures: extreme heavy episodic drinking (HED), cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookahs, marijuana, and non-medical prescription drugs. Their analysis indicated a five-class model. The classes identified were Non/Low Users, Non-Hookah Tobacco Users, Extreme HED and Marijuana Users, Hookah and Marijuana Users, and Poly-Substance Users.



Evans-Polce, R. E., Lanza, S. T., & Maggs, J. L. (2016). Heterogeneity of alcohol, tobacco, and other substance use behaviors in US college students: A latent class analysis. Addictive Behaviors, 53, 80-85.

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