Examining College Students' Participation in the Leisure Pursuits of Drinking and Illegal Drug Use

By Shinew, Kimberly J.; Parry, Diana C. | Journal of Leisure Research, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Examining College Students' Participation in the Leisure Pursuits of Drinking and Illegal Drug Use


Shinew, Kimberly J., Parry, Diana C., Journal of Leisure Research


The study of leisure traditionally focuses on the implicit, and often explicit, benefits of leisure participation (Driver, Peterson, & Brown, 1991). In this regard, Glover (2003) commented that the leisure literature often reflects research on the countless benefits that individuals receive from their activity participation. However, Rojek (1989) recognized the negative side of leisure and the costs associated with such participation when he stated, "an obvious and indisputable fact about leisure in modern society is that many of the most popular activities are illegal" (p. 82). This seems to be the case when one considers some of the more popular leisure pursuits among college students, drinking and illegal drugs use. For example, Henry Wechsler surveyed students at 140 college campuses across the United States and recently published his findings in a book entitled Dying to Drink: Confronting Binge Drinking on College Campuses (2002). His findings showed that two in five college students regularly drink five or more alcoholic beverages in a row, which was significantly linked to the frequency with which they encountered secondary effects of alcohol consumption including date rape, scholastic difficulties, and violence (Hoover, 2002). Similarly, after surveying 7,800 undergraduates at 16 universities across Canada, the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) (2000) discovered 62.7% of the students reported consuming more than five drinks during a single occasion. Moreover, the CAMH found 47% of the students reported using marijuana at some point in their lives, and 10.2% had used illegal substances within 12 months of the study.

Despite the apparent popularity of drinking and illegal drug use, very little is written in the leisure studies literature about college students' involvement in these leisure time activities. One exception was an exploratory study conducted by Tucker and Shinew (1995) that examined the leisure pursuits of college age students. They found 86% of their sample consumed alcohol at least once a week and 40% used illegal drugs, primarily marijuana. This general lack of attention in the leisure literature, however, to the drinking and illegal drug use of college students suggests that a leisure perspective has not been brought to bear on these socially relevant habits, which is surprising given that these activities are typically pursued during leisure time and in a leisure context (Carruthers, 1993; Iso-Ahola & Crowley, 1991). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to address the paucity of research in this area by examining college students' participation in two popular leisure pursuits, drinking and illegal drug use. In this study, drinking was defined by asking students if they drink alcohol, and drug use was established by asking students if they use illegal drugs. We examined their behavior within two potential explanatory theories, differential association and casual leisure, in hopes that we might identify a particularly salient theoretical framework for a leisure perspective on these activities.

The "Other" Side of Leisure

The "benefits of leisure" campaign has been the focus of much research over the past decade. For example, with respect to physical activity, leisure and sport have been linked to cardiovascular benefits such as a reduced resting heart rate (Froelicher & Froelicher, 1991), reduced hypertension, reduced risk of obesity, and prevention of osteoporosis (McPherson, 1991). Iwasaki and Mannell (2000) and Iwasaki, Mannell, Smale, and Butcher (2002) demonstrated the positive role of leisure in helping people deal with stressful life events. Leisure participation has also been credited with helping people develop a sense of competence and self-confidence (Freysinger, Alessio & Mehdizadeh, 1993). Shaw (2001) posited that leisure is a space in which people, either individually or collectively, can challenge and resist the power distributions in society. …

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