College Student Binge Drinking: Implications for a Constructivist Approach to College Counseling
Hensley, Laura G., Journal of College Counseling
This study examined relationships between college students' alcohol consumption and epistemological development. Results indicate students who are frequent binge drinkers have not developed a value system that transcends the influences of peers. On the basis of these findings, a constructivist approach to counseling students with problems related to high-risk drinking is discussed.
Student alcohol use has caused growing concern among campus administrators, faculty, and other personnel because it has become increasingly associated with negative behavioral, health, and academic problems for traditional college students (Meilman, Leichliter, & Presley, 1999). Results of studies that have been reported in the recent literature indicate that students who engage in heavy or "binge" drinking are more likely to experience these negative effects than are students who do not binge drink (Vik, Culbertson, & Sellers, 2000; Wechsler & Dowdall, 1995). Binge drinking, generally defined as the consumption of five or more drinks in one sitting during the previous 2 weeks, is reported by 44%-47% of college students (Core Institute, 1999b; Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, & Lee, 2000). Furthermore, 23% of students report frequent binge drinking, characterized as engaging in binge drinking on three or more occasions during the past 2 weeks (Wechsler, Lee, et al., 2000).
The more frequently a student binge drinks the greater the number of problems he or she experiences as a result of alcohol use. Wechsler and Dowdall (1995) found that 44% of frequent binge drinkers experienced four or more problems as a result of their drinking compared with 14% of binge drinkers and 3% of those who drank alcohol but did not binge drink. Examples of reported consequences include "Did something I later regretted"; "Forgot where I was or what I did"; "Missed a class"; "Engaged in unplanned sexual activity"; "Drove while intoxicated"; and "Got hurt or injured." There is also evidence that binge drinking is related to violence on campus. According to a recent study by the Core Institute (1999b), students who engage in binge drinking were over 3 times more likely to be victims of physical violence than were non binge drinkers. Furthermore, binge drinkers were more than twice as likely to have experienced forced sexual touching than non-binge drinkers and were nearly 3 times more likely to have experienced unwanted sexual intercourse.
It is interesting that the negative consequences of binge drinking (which may be indicative of a student's problematic adjustment to college life) do not typically include social isolation; rather, binge drinkers are often the students most socially integrated into the campus community (Keeling, 1998). Current literature emphasizes the relationship between binge drinking and participation in social activities that appeal to the traditionally aged college student population, including membership in a fraternity or sorority. For example, Cashin, Presley, and Meilman (1998) found that membership in Greek societies was related to higher levels of binge drinking than the level that was indicated by participants from the general college population. In this study, 65% of women in sororities were binge drinkers, as opposed to 35% of women in general, and 75% of fraternity members engaged in binge drinking, as compared with 45% of male students in general. Other findings of the 1998 study revealed that one very strong predictor of binge drinking among students was residence in a fraternity or sorority house; 84% of those who resided in Greek houses reported binge drinking.
Engaging in binge drinking can provide a sense of belongingness at a time when students wish to be connected but may not know other alternatives that may accomplish this (Meilman & Gaylor, 1989). Students who develop drinking styles that are similar to the mainstream campus culture seem to experience security and comfort in their social interaction and may perceive little need to change their alcohol consumption patterns, despite negative consequences. According to Vik et al. (2000), two thirds of college students in their sample who drank heavily did not wish to reduce their alcohol consumption, even though they experienced negative consequences from drinking as well as evidence of tolerance to alcohol. Wechsler, Nelson, and Weitzman (2000) also found that frequent binge drinkers reported their alcohol consumption levels as only "moderate" and expressed no need to change drinking behaviors.
College counselors who work toward moderation of alcohol use by students must be aware of the difficulties inherent in asking students to be different from their peers. Developmentally, students who binge drink may not have constructed personally derived belief and value systems that would enable them to make choices that fall outside of campus social norms. Although alcohol use by college students is a complex phenomenon related to a myriad of biological, environmental, and sociocultural variables, it is proposed that developmental processes may also play a role in student choices related to binge drinking. Specifically, it is posited that developmental theories may provide a framework within which college counselors can conceptualize and assist students with problems related to high-risk alcohol consumption. In the following section, I review identity, moral, and epistemological theories of college student development and present a rationale for exploring the relationship between development and alcohol consumption patterns of traditionally aged college students. Chickering (1969) perceived the establishment of identity as a core developmental task of students during the college years (Evans, Forney, & Guido-DiBrito, 1998). He devised a model of seven vectors that provide a broad developmental framework within which an individual develops a personal value system (Kilgannon & Erwin, 1992). It is posited that as students progress through the developmental tasks, they become more comfortable with themselves and others and begin to internalize a set of values that guide their behavior. This value set may also include choices related to alcohol consumption.
A significant body of literature also relates Kohlberg's (1976) theory of moral development to …
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Publication information: Article title: College Student Binge Drinking: Implications for a Constructivist Approach to College Counseling. Contributors: Hensley, Laura G. - Author. Journal title: Journal of College Counseling. Volume: 4. Issue: 2 Publication date: Fall 2001. Page number: 100+. © 2007 American Counseling Association. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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