Academic journal article College Student Journal

Which Stressors Increase the Odds of College Binge Drinking?

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Which Stressors Increase the Odds of College Binge Drinking?

Article excerpt

Popular images of college life feature drinking and partying, and to a great extent, that image is true (Armstrong & Hamilton, 2013; Robb, 2011). The college years are a period of heavy alcohol consumption and binge drinking (1)--when a student consumes five or more drinks in one sitting (Timberlake et al., 2007; Wechsler et al., 2000a). Compared to their same-age peers who work and do not attend college, university students are more likely to drink in excess (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman, 2000; Johnston et al., 2015) with half of all college students reporting binge drinking behavior (NLAA, 2015b). In any given month, about half of all college students have been drunk at least once (White, Kraus, & Swartzwelder, 2006) and in the last two weeks, about 35% have binged (Johnston et al., 2015). After graduation, binge drinking rates immediately decline (Dawson et al., 2004; Masten et al., 2009), highlighting that binge drinking is a college phenomenon.

At the same time that college binge drinking has made it into the spotlight as a national concern (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000, 2012), so too has college stress (Mahmoud et al., 2012; Regehr, Glancy, & Pitts, 2013). More students than ever--about 80%- report stress on a daily basis (ADAA, 2015; Brougham et al., 2009), and many report feeling stressed to the point of burnout (Anderson & Cole, 2001). Students who are preparing to enter college and newly enrolled freshmen already feel "overwhelmed by obligations" (Pryor et al., 2012). Indeed, recent cohorts of students report the lowest recorded level of emotional and mental health (Pryor et al., 2010), a finding that is echoed by the staff that help them in counseling centers and student health organizations (Newbury-Birch, Lowry, & Kamali, 2002; Raj et al., 2000).

Moreover, these two primary concerns related to the college years are connected. Although binge drinking is often a recreational behavior, woven into college culture (Borsari & Carey, 2001), it is also a documented response to stress (Grzywacz & Almeida, 2008; White & Hingson, 2014). Empirical studies have shown that the burden of stress is related to heavy alcohol consumption and binge drinking (Ham & Hope, 2003; O'Hare & Sherrer, 2000). Among college students, drinking to cope is a fairly common behavioral response, emerging as both a short-term reaction to situational stress and a long-term coping style that remains a strong predictor of heavy alcohol use even when other influences on drinking are controlled for (Park & Levenson, 2002). In the current study, four research questions related to college student stress and binge drinking are asked. First, which academic (RQ1), interpersonal (RQ2), and developmental (RQ3) stressors are associated with college binge drinking? Finally, of academic, interpersonal, and developmental stressors, which is most strongly associated with binge drinking? (RQ4)

Pearlin's (1989) work on the nature of stress is helpful in understanding these potential relationships. Pearlin argued that because well-being is associated with people's access to resources and their patterned experiences within institutions, stress is an inherently sociological problem. As an occupant of various social roles - student, friend, employee, boy/girlfriend, family member--undergraduate students face routine demands on their time, energy, and other resources. When these role demands are perceived as being too burdensome or threatening, or the relationships connected to role performance are problematic or conflictual, stress is the likely outcome. Individual college students feel this stress in varying magnitudes and degrees of intensity (Lunney, 2006), but all must learn to effectively cope with it in order to succeed (Hojat et al., 2003).

From a developmental-contextual perspective, the increased likelihood of stress among college students is a predictable outcome of role change. …

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