It is no surprise that some college-age men and women drink heavily, and can be victims of dating violence as a result. But a recent study by Cynthia Stappenbeck and Kim Fromme at the University of Texas at Austin demonstrates that these behaviors can affect men and women in different ways.

The researchers recruited 2,247 incoming freshmen to complete Internet-based assessments about their drinking and dating behaviors at the end of each fall and spring semester of their first three years of college. The students answered questions designed to assess the details of any dating violence. The questionnaire also asked participants about drinking behavior, including how often they engaged in binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women, and the number of times they felt drunk.

Stappenbeck and Fromme found that 19 percent of the participants experienced physical dating violence at some point during the three year assessment period. 73 percent of participants who acknowledged involvement in violent relationships were female.

The researchers discovered that men who drank most heavily during their freshmen year of college engaged in more violence in their dating relationships during that same year than men who drank less heavily. Heavy drinking, however, did not predict subsequent dating violence for men. By contrast, women who drank heavily during their sophomore year were more likely to encounter dating violence during their junior year than women who did not drink as heavily during their sophomore year.

Given these findings, Stappenbeck and Fromme recommend tailoring education and intervention programs to men and women based on when they may be most vulnerable to heavy drinking and violent relationships. For example, programs should target men before they enter college, and teach them that heavy drinking and dating violence often go hand in hand. Programs should offer men strategies to help reduce both behaviors. Women should participate in drinking prevention programs prior to beginning sophomore year. Both men and women would benefit from better information about how to establish and maintain healthy dating relationships.