Why students drink. Understanding the motivations for student choices about alcohol is important and complex. Individual personality traits certainly contribute and are generally broken into two categories of alcohol-related motivations:

  • Coping motives: drinking to alleviate negative emotional states
  • Enhancement motives: drinking to enhance positive emotional states

Both types are robustly related to alcohol use. But, while enhancement motives appear related to heavy drinking, coping motives appear related to alcohol-related negative consequences as well as heavy drinking. As Reese Witherspoon's character in the movie "How Do You Know?" explains,

"I never have a drink to feel better. I only have a drink to feel even better".

The top reasons first year student at UC Berkeley give for drinking are weighted more toward enhancement than coping. They are:

  • To have a good time
  • To celebrate
  • To be outgoing in social situations
  • Feel connected with the people around me (AlcoholEdu, 2010)

Why students don't drink. College students abstain (for the night or for a lifetime) for reasons beyond religion and recovery. Moderation and non-drinking are not prohibitionist - contrary to what many alcohol marketing tactics imply. Common motivations students have for not drinking include:

  • Lifestyle & Personal Values: against my personal values; conflicts with my religious beliefs; don't like being around others who are drinking.
  • Legal & Financial concern: not old enough to drink legally; worried about being caught by authorities; don't want to spend the money.
  • Peer Disapproval & Norms: people I care about would disapprove; want to fit in with a group I like.
  • Interference & Health: drinking interferes with my activities, e.g. athletics; alcohol is fattening; concerned about negative impacts on my health.
  • Nonessential Behavior: have other things to do; don't have to drink to have a good time.
  • Problem History: people in my family have had alcohol problems; I've decided to cut down.

Turns out that the more numerous and weighty the reasons abstainers can give for their choice, the greater their likelihood of sticking to it (OTC - ARS, 2011). This probably holds true for studentst trying to cut down or otherwise change their drinking habits.

The top reasons new students at UC Berkeley give for choosing not to drink include:

  • I'm going to drive
  • I have other things to do
  • I don't have to drink to have a good time
  • I don't want to lose control
  • Drinking interferes with my schoolwork (AlcoholEdu, 2010).

Drinking Home

Last revised: June 2012

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