What drives students to drink?

(Edmonton) A new study by University of Alberta researcher Kelly Arbeau shows that students who put hitting the bottle before hitting the books may be putting themselves at risk.

Arbeau, along with fellow U of A researchers Don Kuiken and Cam Wild, found that students who used alcohol to cope and those who reported not completing daily tasks showed potential risk for alcohol-related problems. However, the trend among students who completed daily tasks and used alcohol to enhance their mood seemed be one of thinking—and drinking—responsibly.

“We really want to look at people’s day-to-day experience and how it links with their traits and characteristics,” said Arbeau. “We want to look at how the two work together to lead certain people into certain motivations for their drinking.”

Books before booze?

The research uncovered an interesting trend in student drinking as it relates to daily workloads and task completion. Arbeau says the research indicated two typical groups: the conscientious students who completed their work before drinking to have fun or to cope, and the less conscientious group who chose to drink, for whatever reason, despite not having completed their daily tasks. She says the more responsible group is likely making smarter planning choices and is less likely to experience the negative consequences of not meeting their responsibilities.

“This tells us that conscientiousness really is a key factor for people drinking; they look to, ‘Have I finished my business for the day? Have I done my homework? Have I gone to my job?’ and so forth,” she said. “It seems that they make sure their drinking is not going to interfere with those daily responsibilities. Maybe they are using the same conscientiousness about their drinking as they are in the rest of their lives.”

Drink to enhance, drink to cope

As with other similar studies, the U of A researchers’ results indicated that students adapt to two specific types of behaviour when consuming alcohol for mood-related reasons: as a means to deal with stress or with negative feelings, and as a means to enhance their positive mood. Students who did not typically drink to cope were seemingly less affected by day-to-day changes in mood. But those who regularly drink to cope were more likely to do so on stressful days. Arbeau says that those using alcohol as a means of coping may lack other, less harmful methods of dealing with stress, and that identifying and working with these students may help them stave off potentially damaging drinking problems.

“Research tells us that people who often drink to cope may lack other effective ways of coping,” Arbeau said. “Teaching alternatives to turning to alcohol to cope with distress—teaching people about anything from seeking out social support to having strategies for time management—could be an effective way of helping students who are drinking to cope.”

The study was published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.