URJHS Volume 7

URC

Predictors of Binge Drinking Among College Students

Blair Leppert
Sheri Lokken Worthy*
Mississippi State University


Abstract

The purpose of this study was to investigate predictors of college student binge drinking. Consequences of college drinking include alcohol-related unintentional injuries, motor vehicle crashes, unprotected sex, academic problems, health problems, suicide attempts, destructive behavior, and police involvement. The sample for this study consisted of 7 males and 105 females. Although 58% of students age 19 to 25 reported binge drinking at least two times in the past 30 days, no hypothesized predictors were found to have significant relationships with binge drinking. Caucasian students in this sample were more likely than African American students to binge drink.

Introduction

It appears that approximately 50% of undergraduates are currently drinking less, yet the other 50% are drinking more and are considered to be binge drinkers (Rau & Durand, 2000; Wechsler, 1995). According to Boyle and Boekeloo (2006, p. 238),

[C]ollege drinking is a public health concern because of the many effects the behavior can have on the lives of drinkers and those around them. Heavy college drinking may lead to hangovers, engaging in behaviors later regretted, blacking out (i.e., forgetting where one is and what one did), arguing with friends, and receiving medical treatment for an alcohol overdose.

It has been found that “frequent binge drinkers are 21 times more likely to experience negative consequences than non-binge drinkers” (Siebart, Wilke, Delva, Smith, & Howell, 2003, p. 123). The purpose of this study was to determine what factors predict frequent binge drinking among college students.

Review of Literature

Time Spent Studying

According to a 2005 study at a predominantly African American university, there was a significant negative correlation found between alcohol consumption and study practices. A random sample of 492 students completed a computer survey that contained questions regarding drinking and study habits (dePyssler, Williams, & Windle, 2005). These students ranged in age from 18 to 45 years, and a majority of these students lived on campus. The researchers found: 13% of the sample to be high-risk drinkers; the students at this university to have above-average study habits; and male students consumed more alcohol and binge drank more frequently than female students. Additionally, the researchers found the female students had better study habits than the male students, and non-drinkers took school more seriously and were less likely to procrastinate on their schoolwork. Based on the results of this study, the researchers concluded, “better study practices are generally associated with less alcohol consumption” (dePyssler et al., 2005, p. 36).

In another study, graduate and undergraduate students were questioned on various scales regarding disciplined study, sobriety, and academic performance (Rau & Durand, 2000). The authors reported approximately 30% of a student’s time was dedicated to academic work while another 70% was dedicated elsewhere. A significant number of students in this sample drank regularly on weekdays and on the weekend; some even binge drank during the regular week. Those students were characterized as the ones who missed class due to hangovers, were inattentive during lectures, had difficulty concentrating while studying, and often resorted to “cram studying” (Rau & Durand, 2000, p. 22). Rau and Durand concluded, “students with a well-developed academic ethic placed their studies above leisure activities; studied on a daily or near-daily basis; and studied in a disciplined, intense, and sober fashion” (Rau & Durand, 2000, p. 23). The students committed to their college careers made an effort to avoid binge drinking and either drank moderately or abstained from drinking completely. The authors also noted the possibility that students who come from families with a strong work ethic or strong religious background tended to have better study habits (Rau & Durand, 2000). In this study, students with good study habits were not predicted to drink heavily or even at all. However, good study habits did not predict a high grade point average (GPA). This leads to the first hypothesis for this study: In a typical week, students who spend more time studying are less likely to binge drink.

Parents’ Expectations

Boyle and Boekeloo (2006) examined how parents influence their college-aged child’s drinking behavior by sampling 265 freshmen students at a mid-Atlantic university. The students in the sample lived on campus, were 18 and 19 years of age, and 69% were white (Boyle & Boekeloo, 2006). The students were asked about their drinking consequences, their parents’ drinking behavior, and their parents’ approval of their drinking. More than 68% stated that they had experienced at least one negative consequence from their drinking in the past year; 55.5% complained of headaches and hangovers; 52.1% felt sick or vomited after drinking; 42.6% of the participants claimed “being unable to remember the night before when awakening after drinking;” 28.6% reported regretting certain sexual situations that occurred as a consequence of drinking; and 27% claimed that they had missed work or classes as a result of drinking (Boyle & Boekeloo, 2006, p. 240). Approximately 33% of the students believed their parents somewhat or strongly approved of their occasional drinking; 6% reported their parents somewhat or strongly approved of regular drinking; and 1-2% reported their parents supported heavy drinking on a regular basis (Boyle & Boekeloo, 2006). The authors concluded if parents approve of their child’s drinking behavior, then the child is more likely to drink and possibly have a drinking problem. Students are more likely to drink if they feel that they can still live up to their parents’ expectations.

Turrisi, Jaccard, Taki, Dunnam, and Grimes conducted a study to test the effectiveness of a parent-intervention tactic designed to help parents learn how to discuss binge drinking with their adolescent children before attending college (Turrisi et al., 2001). Another purpose was to examine if this tactic would reduce college teens’ binge drinking. The study used a treatment and control group to compare the results. It measured binge drinking and drinking tendencies, perceptions about drinking activities, perceived peer and parental approval of alcohol consumption, and binge drinking consequences (Turrisi et al., 2001). Results from the study showed that parents found the parent-intervention tactic to be very useful, helpful, and effective in talking to their children about binge drinking. Also, the parent-intervention program helped “reduce drinking and tendencies toward drunkenness, increase negative perceptions toward drinking activities, reduce peer and parental approval of drinking, and decrease drinking-related consequences” (Turrisi et al., 2001, p. 372). The information from these studies leads to the hypothesis: Students are more likely to binge drink if they feel that they can still live up to their parents’ expectations.

Parental Support

A study was done at a black college campus which measured factors associated with adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs), and adult children of non-alcoholics (non-ACOAs) (Rodney, 1994). The study’s administrators believed that ACOAs would be more associated with a family alcoholic background, which contributes to more alcohol-related deaths, more frequent divorce, less communication with others, and more violence (Rodney, 1994). A total of 554 students were classified as either ACOAs or non-ACOAs and asked questions regarding perceptions of parents’ drinking, consequences of drinking, health of relationships from childhood years, and emotional support. Nineteen percent of participants were found to be ACOAs and 81% of participants were non-ACOAs. Results further showed that 54% of the ACOAs had a drinking problem, and 34% of the non-ACOAs had a drinking problem. The ACOAs reported having less emotional support from their mothers than the non-ACOAs reported (Rodney, 1994). This study suggested that a mother’s support can heavily influence a college-aged child’s drinking behavior, which leads to the third hypothesis: Students are less likely to binge drink if their mother was very supportive.

Self-Confidence

Johnson, Rodger, Harris, Edmunds, and Wakabayashi (2005) conducted research to determine predictors of alcohol consumption in university residences by. A sample of 5,597 first-year undergraduate students completed questionnaires that measured alcohol consumption and its impact on the students’ sense of belonging. The average student consumed approximately seven to eight drinks per week, with male students drinking more per week than female students. The students who drank missed class more often, had a lower GPA, and reported having a higher sense of belonging than non-drinking students (Johnson et al., 2005). The researchers suggested future intervention programs should promote a strong sense of belonging to students “without including alcohol as a part of the event” (Johnson et al., 2005, p. 15). Apparently, students who drink feel more confident and feel like they fit in with others, which supports the next hypothesis: Students who binge drink feel more confident in themselves.

Parental Happiness

Billingham, Wilson, and Gross (1999) examined the family structure and its impact on college student drinking. A sample of 1,495 undergraduate students ranging from 17 to 23 years old participated in completing an anonymous questionnaire. The survey asked questions regarding type of alcohol consumed, amount of alcohol consumed, frequency of alcohol consumed, and consequences associated with their drinking habits. Students were also asked whether they came from intact families or divorced families. Like other studies, the results showed that men drank more than women, but additionally that men were “more likely to report having experienced negative consequences as a result of their drinking” (Billingham et al., 1999, p. 324). Results indicated that individuals from divorced families do not necessarily consume more alcohol than individuals from intact families, but students from divorced families do tend to have more negative consequences associated with their drinking. For example, individuals from divorced families are more likely to: (a) drive after having several drinks, (b) drive knowing that they have had too much to drink, and (c) drink while driving (Billingham et al., 1999, p. 324). This leads to hypothesis 5: Students are more likely to binge drink if their parents are unhappy with each other.

Parentification

The purpose of a study conducted at Georgia State University was to determine whether parentified students had low high school GPAs and low SAT scores (Chase, Deming, & Wells, 1998). Chase et al. (1998) defined parentification as entailing “functional and emotional role reversal in which a child, in response to an adult’s abdication of parental responsibility, reacts by sacrificing his or her own needs for comfort and guidance to accommodate and care for logistical, emotional, and self-esteem needs of the parents” (p. 105).

The sample for this study consisted of 360 undergraduate psychology students. The participants were asked questions regarding their personal feelings about their parents’ drinking behaviors. Children of alcoholics were more likely to have parentified roles than children of non-alcoholics or children of problem drinkers. Also, parentified students were less likely to perform well academically in high school and on the SAT (Chase et al., 1998). According to the authors, these particular students were focusing so much of their time and energy on their parents that it interfered tremendously with their college education. This leads to hypothesis 6: College students are more likely to have a low GPA if they feel they have to take care of their parents.

Ethnicity and Binge Drinking

A study by Siebart and colleagues (2003) showed the differences in African American and Caucasian college students’ drinking behavior. Of the sample of 1,121 participants, most were considered full-time students, were single, and lived off campus. The average age was 21 years old. The study participants were asked a variety of questions regarding their drinking and drinking consequences. Results stated that African American students are less likely to binge drink in college than Caucasian students and African Americans were more likely to abstain from drinking alcohol than Caucasians (Siebart et al., 2003). Twenty percent of non-abstaining African Americans had not had an alcoholic drink within the past 30 days; only 10% of non-abstaining Caucasians had done the same. Results showed that 51% of whites had a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher the last time they attended a party, while 16% of African Americans reported the same thing. Caucasian students reported drinking more drinks and more days during a month than African American. Caucasian students were more likely to experience negative consequences as a result of their drinking (Siebart et al., 2003). For example, whites were more likely to do something they later regretted, forget where they were or what they did, physically injure themselves, or have unprotected sex after drinking.

Another study was done on the predictors of undergraduate student binge drinking. Results showed that 41.2% of Caucasian participants and 85.6% of African American participants reported to have not participated in binge drinking in the last two weeks (Strano, Cuomo, & Venable, 2004). Furthermore, 29.1% of Caucasian participants and 8.7% of African American participants reported having been involved in one to two binge drinking experiences in the last two weeks and 29.7% of Caucasian and 5.8% of African American participants had admitted to binge drinking at least three or more times within the last two weeks (Strano et al., 2004). These studies further supported the following hypothesis: African American students are less likely to binge drink than Caucasian students.

Hypotheses

The review of literature suggests there are variables that may predict frequency of binge drinking among college students. The purpose of this study was to determine what factors predict frequent binge drinking among college students. The following hypotheses were examined in this study:

Hypothesis 1: In a typical week, students who spend more time studying are less likely to binge drink.

Hypothesis 2: Students are more likely to binge drink if they feel that they can still live up to their parents’ expectations.

Hypothesis 3: Students are less likely to binge drink if their mother was very supportive.

Hypothesis 4: Students who binge drink feel more confident in themselves.

Hypothesis 5: Students are more likely to binge drink if their parents are unhappy with each other.

Hypothesis 6: College students are more likely to have a low GPA if they feel they have to take care of their parents.

Hypothesis 7: African American students are less likely to binge drink than Caucasian students.

Methodology

The data for this study came from a questionnaire originally administered for a larger study. The purpose of the original, larger study was to gather information from college students regarding their gambling behaviors. This survey was completed by Mississippi State University students enrolled in human sciences classes during the spring semester of 2006. The data were used to investigate correlates of binge drinking among college students.

The participants in this study were predominantly female. There were 105 females and 7 males who participated in the study; one person did not reveal their gender. Participation in this study was strictly voluntary, and the information collected was kept confidential. Students were given extra credit for their participation.

Instrument

The study questionnaire had several questions, but only a few were used for this research. Students were asked their race/ethnicity, GPA, and how frequently they had participated in binge drinking in the past 30 days. Questions about study habits, parents’ expectations, support from mother, parents’ happiness, parentification, and self-confidence were ranked on a likert scale which ranged from 1 = “strongly disagree,” to 5 = “strongly agree.”

Data Analysis

The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) Version 13.0 was used for all statistical analyses. Hypotheses 1 – 6 were tested by running Pearson’s Correlations. Hypothesis 7 was tested by running a t-test between Caucasian students’ binge drinking frequency and African American students’ binge drinking frequency.

Results

The sample consisted of 105 females (92.9%) and 7 males (6.2%). The participants ranged in age from 19 to 31+ years of age, with a mean age of 24.4 years. Results showed that 47.8% were Caucasian, 48.7% were African American, 0.9% were Hispanic, and 2.7% were another race. A majority of students reported having a GPA between 2.5 and 3.49. Fifty-eight percent of the students age 19 to 25 reported binge drinking at least two times in the past 30 days. Table 1 details the demographics of the sample.

Table 1

Demographic Characteristics of the Sample.

 

n

%

Gender

Male
Female
Missing
Total

 

7
105
1
113

 

6.2
92.9
0.9
100.0

Race/Ethnicity

Caucasian
African American
Hispanic
Other
Total

 

54
55
1
3
113

 

47.8
48.7
0.9
2.7
100.0

GPA

Below 2.0
2.00-2.49
2.50-2.99
3.00-3.49
3.50-4.00
Total

 

2
25
36
32
18
113

 

1.8
22.1
31.9
28.3
15.9
100.0

Age

19
20
21
22
23
24-30
31+
Missing
Total

 

2
7
10
29
15
24
22
4
113
 

1.8
6.2
8.8
25.7
13.3
21.3
19.5
3.5
100.0

 

After the data were analyzed, the following results were found. The first hypothesis for this study was in a typical week, students who spend more time studying are less likely to binge drink. Results from the data showed no significant correlation between “In a typical week, I spend a lot of time studying” and frequency of binge drinking (r = -.174). See Table 2.

Table 2

Pearson’s Correlations among Current GPA, Binge Drinking, and Other Variables.

Current GPA

5+ Drinks

During the past 30 days, on how many days did you drink 5 or more drinks at one time (5+ Drinks)

-0.153

1

In a typical week, I spend a lot of time studying. (H1)

-0.174

I think I can live up to my parents’ expectations of me. (H2)

-0.087

My mother was supportive if I was having problems. (H3)

0.157

My confidence has increased since I started college. (H4)

-0.071

I see my parents as happy. (H5)

0.193*

I worry a lot about my parents.(H6)

-0.082

-0.083

My parents need my help. (H6)

-0.026

-0.269**

Current overall GPA

1

-0.153

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

* Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

The second hypothesis for this study was students are more likely to binge drink if they feel that they can still live up to their parents’ expectations. Results from the database found no significant relationship between “I think I can live up to my parents’ expectations of me” and frequency of binge drinking (r = -.087). Results are found in Table 2.

The third hypothesis for this study was students are less likely to binge drink if their mother was very supportive. Results from the database found no significant relationship between the “My mother was supportive if I was having problems” and frequency of binge drinking (r = .157). See Table 2.

The fourth hypothesis for this study was students who binge drink feel more confident in themselves. Results from the database found no significant relationship between “My confidence has increased since I started college” and frequency of binge drinking (r = -.071). Results are found in Table 2.

The fifth hypothesis for this study was students are more likely to binge drink if their parents are unhappy with each other. A significant positive correlation was found between “I see my parents as happy” and frequency of binge drinking (r = 0.193*). However, the relationship was the opposite of what the hypothesis predicted. It is possible that these emerging adults have no responsibilities to their parents; therefore, they have more time to binge drink. It is also possible these college students feel free to do what they want if they are not parentified in their family’s household. Results were found in Table 2.

The sixth hypothesis for this study was college students are more likely to have a low GPA if they feel they have to take care of their parents. No relationship was found between “I worry a lot about my parents” and GPA (r = -.082). No relationship was found between “My parents need my help” and GPA (r = .026). Results are shown in Table 2.

The final hypothesis for this study was African American students are less likely to binge drink than Caucasian students. Results of a t-test show this hypothesis to be accepted. Caucasian students do binge drink more frequently than African American students in this study, however, these results need to be interpreted with caution since the standard deviation of the Caucasian student’s binge drinking mean was high. According to the data, the Caucasian student mean for binge drinking in the past 30 days was 3.38 (S.D. = 4.451) while the African American student mean for binge drinking in the past 30 days was 1.08 (S.D. = .987). This finding is supported by previous research (Siebart et al., 2003; Strano et al., 2004). Results are detailed in Table 3.

Table 3

T-Test of Ethnicity and Binge Drinking.

n

M

S.D.

t

5+ Drinks

Caucasian

African American

52

52

3.38

1.08

4.451

0.987

3.650***

p≤.001

Limitations

There were limitations with this research study. The survey was a convenience sample administered only in human sciences classes at Mississippi State University. These students are not necessarily representative of all university students. For example, there were a disproportionate number of female and male participants in the study. Since several research studies indicated male students binge drink more than female students (dePyssler et al., 2005; Johnson et al., 2005), this could be a reason why many of the hypotheses of this study were not accepted.

Also, this sample had a higher mean age than many research studies on college students. The participants’ ages ranged from 19 to over 31 years old and the mean age was 24.4 years old. There was a higher than normal percentage of older non-traditional students (over 25 years old) who participated in this study. Previous studies have shown academic achievement, parental influences, and self-confidence are key influential factors for college student binge drinking (Boyle & Boekeloo, 2006; dePyssler et al., 2005; Johnson, et al., 2005; Rau & Durand, 2000; Turrisi, et al., 2001). These relationships were not found in this study, perhaps because the sample was older than typical college-student samples. However, when the analyses were run without the non-traditional students, all results were the same.

Discussion

Relationships between study habits, parents’ expectations, parental support, GPA, self-confidence, and binge drinking were expected, but not found. A significant relationship was found between binge drinking and parents’ happiness, yet the opposite correlation of what was predicted was found. This finding may indicate some college students have few worries about their parents, and therefore, feel free to take advantage of more irresponsible behaviors such as binge drinking.

Also, a significant difference was found between African American students and Caucasian students in their binge drinking frequency. Caucasian students were found to binge drink more often than African American students. This is an area that warrants further study. As Johnson et al. (2005) suggested, traditional age college students have a strong need to fit in. If their peer group is binge drinking, they will be more likely to do so. Programs, which do not include alcohol to help students feel included, need to be investigated.

The major conclusion of this research study is the lack of significant findings. The lack of relationships between hypothesized predictor variables and binge drinking frequency may indicate that college students drink as a function of their peer group, and many students are able to participate in this activity yet maintain study habits and GPAs. Binge drinkers may not necessarily come from dysfunctional family settings. Binge drinking among college students may seem like a harmless activity that is socially acceptable among their peers, but it a serious problem that needs to be addressed by parents, educators, school administrators, and law enforcement officials.

References

Billingham, R. E., Wilson, W., & Gross, W. C. (1999). Parental divorce and consequences of drinking among college students. College Student Journal, 33(3), 322-327.

Boyle, J. R., & Boekeloo, B. O. (2006). Perceived parental approval of drinking and its impact on problem drinking behaviors among first-year college students. Journal of American College Health, 54(4), 238-244.

Chase, N. D., Deming, M. P., & Wells, M. C., (1998). Parentification, parental alcoholism, and academic status among young adults. American Journal of Family Therapy, 26(2), 105-114.

dePyssler, B., Williams, V. S. L., & Windle, M. (2005). Alcohol consumption and positive study practices among African American college students. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 49(4), 26-44.

Johnson, A. M., Rodger, S. C., Harris, J. A., Edmunds, L. A., & Wakabayashi, P. (2005). Predictors of alcohol consumption in University residences. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 49(3), 9-18.

Rau, W., & Durand, A. (2000). The academic ethic and college grades: Does hard work help students to ‘make the grade’?. Sociology of Education, 73(1), 19-38.

Rodney, H. E. (1994). What differentiates ACOAs and non-ACOAs on a Black college campus? Journal of American College Health, 43(2), 57-63.

Siebart, D. C., Wilke, D. J., Delva, J., Smith, M. P., & Howell, R. L. (2003). Differences in African American and White college students’ drinking behaviors: Consequences, harm reduction strategies, and health information sources. Journal of American College Health, 52(3), 123-129.

Strano, D. A., Cuomo, M. J., & Venable, R. H. (2004). Predictors of undergraduate student binge drinking. Journal of College Counseling, 7(1), 50-63.

Turrisi, R., Jaccard, J., Taki, R., Dunnam, H., & Grimes, J. (2001). Examination of the short-term efficacy of a parent intervention to reduce college student drinking tendencies. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 15(4), 366-372.

Wechsler, H. (1995). Binge drinking on American college campuses: A new look at an old problem. Boston: Harvard School of Public Health.


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