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When Do College Students Avoid Drinking Alcohol?

Most college students in the U.S. drink alcohol, and many participate in dangerous drinking practices that endanger their health and the health of others. However, college students sometimes (many of whom normally drink) choose not to participate in alcohol consumption. In a study published in July 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, researchers from two American universities explored the reasons college students choose not to drink alcohol on specific occasions. These researchers concluded that the reasons for not drinking are complex and vary from person to person.

College Drinking Practices

Drinking is an extremely common practice on college and university campuses. Most new students have some prior experience with alcohol; however, in the college environment, consumption levels frequently increase substantially. A number of factors help explain this increased participation in drinking, including traditional connections between college and alcohol intake, the lack of behavioral monitoring by parents, relatively easy access to alcohol, lax or spotty enforcement of laws and school policies that prohibit underage drinking and the amount of free time commonly available to college students.

Unfortunately, close to 50 percent of U.S. college students intentionally seek to get drunk by consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short span of time. This practice, known as binge drinking, is linked to serious harms for the individual who drinks excessively, the larger campus environment and society as a whole. Examples of the harms associated with binge drinking in particular and/or excessive drinking in general include injuries and deaths related to car crashes and other accidents, injuries and deaths related to physical assaults, mental and physical trauma related to sexual assaults, increased chances of developing alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse/alcoholism) and increased chances of attempting or committing suicide.

College Drinking Motivations

Whether they’re aware of them or not, all alcohol consumers have reasons for their involvement in drinking. This fact applies equally to college students. Potential motivations for drinking include the desire to feel pleasure or elevate existing pleasurable feelings, the desire to make relatively easy social connections with others, the desire to conform to the expectations of peers or other social groups and the desire to cope with or avoid unpleasant situations or unpleasant states of mind. Alcohol consumption is also influenced by preexisting expectations regarding the pros and cons of drinking. As a rule, people who enter drinking situations with an expectation of experiencing desirable or positive outcomes typically have a greater incentive to consume alcohol than people who enter such situations with an expectation of experiencing undesirable or negative outcomes.

When Do Students Avoid Drinking?

In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Review, researchers from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Fairleigh Dickinson University used information gathered from 1,631 students to explore the reasons college students choose not to participate in alcohol consumption. All of the study participants were asked to keep a journal for one month and record their reasons for not consuming alcohol on any given night. In addition, the participants were asked to report their daily emotional status, their general reasons for consuming alcohol and their general expectations regarding the pros and cons of drinking.

After analyzing each participant’s drinking journal, the researchers concluded that college students avoid consuming alcohol for a number of reasons, including a lack of drinking companions, the need to complete school work, the need to hold down a job, lack of yearning for alcohol consumption on a given night and a habitual tendency to not drink alcohol. When the researchers looked at the connection between emotional status and the stated reasons for not drinking, they found very complex and situational interactions. For example, levels of sadness can rise in college students who don’t drink because they lack drinking companions; however, levels of sadness can fall in students who don’t drink because they need to complete work for their classes. The situation grew even more complex when the researchers considered general drinking motivations and expectations of alcohol effects. For example, they found that several stated reasons not to drink were linked to certain drinking motivations (e.g., the desire to conform or cope with unwanted feelings), but not others.

The study’s authors believe that their complicated findings help explain why researchers commonly have a hard time linking alcohol consumption to specific moods or states of mind. They also believe that information gathered from daily drinking journals and other detailed, long-term approaches can eventually help clarify the reasons why college students or other people do or don’t consume alcohol in specific circumstances.

Posted on September 10th, 2014
Posted in Young Adults

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