Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Stress and Drinking Context in College First Offenders

Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Stress and Drinking Context in College First Offenders

Article excerpt


Social-cognitive theory has provided a framework within which to examine the complex interactions of stress, alcohol expectancies, drinking problems and drinking context. The current study of 505 college students who drink examines the relationships among self-reported stress, drinking related problems (socio-emotional and community-related), and gender with three distinct drinking contexts, (convivial, intimate and negative coping). Results support the direct relationship between stress and excessive drinking across all three contexts, but also show that stress and self-reported social-emotional drinking problems interact to predict drinking to cope with negative emotions. Men with greater self-reported stress also appear more likely to drink to cope with negative emotions. Recommendations for secondary prevention efforts based on context-related drinking styles are suggested.


Over the past two decades, a broad social-cognitive framework for understanding the complexities of youthful drinking has begun to emerge (Abrams and Niaura, 1987; Burke and Stephens, 1999). Much of the emphasis has been on linking motivations for drinking, alcohol expectancies of drinking effects, stress and related factors and social-contextual variables as determinants of problem drinking. Other descriptive research has catalogued, with some consistency, an array of potentially serious problems related to excessive drinking in college students (Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, and Lee, 2000; Wechsler, Davenport, Dowdall, Moeykens, and Costillow, 1994; O'Hare, 1990a). These problems include negative psychological (e.g. depression, suicide, anxiety), interpersonal (e.g., fights, unplanned sex) and community (e.g. driving under the influence) problems. The rates of alcohol abuse among university students is of particular concern since college age drinkers generally consume even greater amounts than their non-college cohorts (Gfoerer, Greenblatt, and Wright, 1997), and youthful drinking patterns may have prognostic value for future alcohol dependence (Bennett, McCrady, Johnson and Pandina, 1999; Schuckit, 1998). These data collectively suggest a potentially important role for targeted prevention efforts.

Among the many factors considered within social-cognitive theory, three areas have received considerable attention in the past 20 years: stress and related factors (e.g., social anxiety, negative emotions), alcohol expectancies (e.g., belief that alcohol will relieve tension, increase social pleasure), and the social context of drinking (where, with whom, and under what circumstances one drinks). Although some research has attempted to address these factors in a discrete manner, a growing body of literature has come to focus on the interactional nature of psycho-physiological, cognitive and contextual aspects of youthful drinking. The following study is one such attempt to advance the knowledge of related to youthful drinking by examining the linkages among stress, problem drinking and various drinking contexts.

Stress and college drinking

In recent years there has been a growing literature on stress and youthful drinking. Stress symptoms appear to be a common complaint in college emergency services (Meilman, Shipp, Hacker and Kraus-Zeilmann, 1993), and evidence suggests that stress may be particularly common in college freshman (Sher, Wood and Gotham, 1996). Others have associated distressful events with depression, poorer general health and general well-being in college students (Damush, Hays and DiMatteo, 1997). Emotional distress also appears to be related to drug and alcohol abuse (Arthur, 1998). O'Hare and Sherrer (2000) surveyed a large sample of undergraduate first offenders (i.e., those caught drinking illegally on campus, a previous cohort of the current investigation), and demonstrated that substance abuse and psychosocial stress co-occurred significantly in this group, and women with moderate stress levels showed disproportionately greater involvement with substance abuse than men. …

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