Alcohol Use, Self-Esteem, Depression, and Suicidality in High School Students

Article excerpt

A number of studies have indicated that adolescents who refrain from drinking alcohol have higher self-esteem than do adolescents who drink (Butler, 1980; Young, Werch, & Bakema 1989). Other studies report that adolescents who refrain from drinking are less depressed than those who drink (Workman & Beer, 1989). These associations have also been noted in college students. For example, Deykin, Levy, and Wells (1986) found that alcohol use and depression were associated in college students.

Some of these studies measured alcohol abuse; the present study explored whether the same associations would be found for alcohol use in general. In addition, the present study examined these associations in high school and college students who were both under and over the legal drinking age of 21.


The questionnaire used in this study included the Adolescent Alcohol Involvement Scale (Moberg, 1983) which has fourteen questions about alcohol use, the Rosenberg (1965) Self-esteem Scale, and the Beck Depression Inventory (Beck, Ward, Mendelson, Mock, & Erbaugh, 1961).

The questionnaire was administered anonymously to 140 high school students (55 males and 85 females; mean age = 15.7, SD = 1.0); 53 college students aged 18-20 (21 males and 32 females, mean age = 19.3, SD = 0.7; and 33 college students 21 years or older (14 males and 19 females, mean age = 23.2, SD = 4.3).


For the high school students, the frequency of drinking (ranging from never to every day) was associated with depression (Pearson r = 0.23, one-tailed p [is less than] .01), indicating that respondents who drank more often were more depressed, but was not associated with age, gender, self-esteem, or a history of having considered, threatened or attempted suicide. Depression and self-esteem scores were negatively associated (r = -0.59, p [is less than] .001), indicating that the more depressed respondents had lower self-esteem. In a multiple regression analysis, frequency of use of alcohol was associated positively with both depression and self-esteem, but not significantly with age and gender.

For college students, depression was associated with the frequency of alcohol use for students below (r = 0.38, p [is less than] .01) and above (r = 0.28, p = .06) the legal drinking age. For students aged 18-20 multiple regression analysis indicated that depression was positively associated with frequency of alcohol use, and that males used alcohol more frequently than did females; for students 21 years of age and older, none of the variables were associated with frequency of use.

For those who did use alcohol at least once or twice a year, a total alcohol involvement score could be obtained by summing the scores on all 14 items of the alcohol involvement scale. For the high school students, the total alcohol involvement scores were not associated with age, gender, depression, self-esteem or a history of thinking about or threatening suicide. Higher alcohol involvement scores were associated with having attempted suicide in the past (point biserial r = 0.25, p [is less than] .05). In the multiple regression analysis, alcohol misuse was positively associated with both depression and self-esteem.

For college students under the legal drinking age, however, alcohol involvement was associated with age (r = -0.42, p [is less than] .01), depression (r = 0.54, p [is less than] .001), self-esteem (r = -0.30, p [is less than] .05), and current suicidal ideation on item nine of the Beck Depression Inventory (r = 0.36, p [is less than] .01), but not with gender or a history of having thought about or threatened suicide. In the multiple regression analysis, alcohol misuse was positively associated with depression, being male, and being younger.

For college students over the age of 20, some of the items or the alcohol involvement scale did not apply; thus, total alcohol involvement scores were not explored. …


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