Hazardous drinking by first-year college-athletes: the differential roles of drinking motives, alcohol consequences, and season status.

Author:Wahesh, Edward


College student-athletes and first-year students are two undergraduate populations at risk for heavy-episodic drinking and alcohol-related negative consequences. In this study, 63 (56% female, 62% Caucasian) first-year student-athletes completed a preliminary questionnaire assessing demographic characteristics, athlete-specific drinking motives, alcohol-related negative consequences, and season status. Scores of five or more on the ,4 UDIT-C defined the at-risk subsample. Participants who met the criteria for hazardous drinking (n = 19) reported higher levels of alcohol-related negative consequences and drinking motives. A logistic regression, with these variables, successfully distinguished between the two groups. Sport-related coping2, and positive reinforcement drinking motives, emerged as the most robust predictors of hazardous drinking. Implications for screening, prevention, and brief intervention strategies for first-year student-athletes are discussed.

Keywords: college student-athlete, First-year student, drinking motives, alcohol use


Problematic alcohol consumption by undergraduate students remains a significant public health issue on college campuses in the United States. Among college students, student-athletes are a population of students at increased risk for heavy episodic drinking (i.e., on at least one occasion in the past 2 weeks, consuming five or more drinks in one sitting for men and consuming four or more drinks for women; Ford, 2007; Nelson & Wechsler, 2001). A breadth of research has demonstrated that college student-athletes engaged in more heavy episodic drinking occasions, endorsed drinking more on peak drinking occasions, and reported getting drunk more frequently than their non-athlete peers (Turrisi, Mastroleo, Mallett, Larimer, & Kilmer, 2007). According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA; 2012), over 83% of college student-athletes reported past year alcohol consumption and approximately 49% of those reporting heavy episodic drinking on one or more occasions.

Heavy episodic drinking exposes college student-athletes to a number of psychosocial and physical alcohol-related negative consequences (Martens, Dams-O'Connor, & Beck, 2006). Indeed, student-athletes have been shown to experience alcohol-related consequences at higher rates compared to their non-athlete peers (Nelson & Wechsler, 2001). These negative consequences range from experiencing academic problems such as missing class to serious physiological issues such as memory loss because of heavy alcohol consumption. Rates of alcohol-related negative consequences among college student-athletes are alarming. Among student-athletes, nearly 1-in-4 reported that they had driven a car while under the influence and 36% reported getting into a fight or argument because of their alcohol use at least once during the past year (NCAA, 2012).

Given these concerning trends, researchers have attempted to identify the contextual and motivational factors that influence college student-athlete high-risk drinking behaviors. In a longitudinal study of college student-athlete drinking patterns, Martens, Dams-O'Connor, and Duffy-Paiement (2006) found that alcohol use and alcohol-related negative consequences decreased during the competitive season. These findings indicate that alcohol use among student-athletes is at its peak during the off-season when there are fewer athletic performance-related demands.

Specific drinking motives that are unique to student-athletes have been found to be a robust predictor of alcohol consumption during both the competitive season and off-season (Martens & Martin, 2010). Martens, Watson, Royland, and Beck (2005) identified three categories of student-athlete drinking motives, (a) positive reinforcement (e.g., I drink to celebrate athletic victories), (b) sport-related stress and coping (e.g., I drink to help me deal with poor performances), and (c) team/group (e.g., I drink to "fit in" with my teammates). These athlete-specific motives have been found to be associated with alcohol use and alcohol-related negative consequences among college student-athletes even after controlling for general college student drinking motives (Martens, LaBrie, Hummer, & Pedersen, 2008). More specifically, positive reinforcement drinking motives were found to have the most robust association with rate of alcohol use, and sport-related coping possessed the strongest relationship with alcohol-related negative consequences (Martens, LaBrie, Hummer, & Pedersen, 2008).

Although both season status and drinking motives have been associated with alcohol consumption and alcohol-related negative consequences, questions remain as to which factors better predict hazardous drinking among college student-athletes. Whereas previous research has found that alcohol consumption among student-athletes decreases during their competitive season (e.g., Martens, Dams-O'Connor, & Duffy-Paiement, 2006; Thombs, 2000; Yusko, Buckman, White, & Pandina, 2008), Martens and Martin (2010) found that athlete-specific drinking motives actually increased among student-athletes during their competitive season. The authors surmised that athlete-specific drinking motives increased during the competitive season because they were more salient at that time (i.e., more time spent with team, more sport-related stress), yet they noted that these findings were counterintuitive given that rates of alcohol use declined during this period. Examining these factors together may help determine how to identify student-athletes who engage in hazardous drinking and when these students can be targeted with high-risk drinking prevention and intervention strategies.

Similar to college student-athletes, first-year undergraduate students are a subgroup of college students that are also at an increased risk for heavy-episodic drinking and alcohol-related negative consequences (Borsari, Murphy, & Barnett, 2007). The transition from high school into college creates opportunities for first-year students to consume alcohol in their desire to develop autonomy and establish a social network (Schulenberg & Maggs, 2001). In addition to these developmental issues, many first-year student-athletes also experience sports-related stress related to training intensity and high performance expectations (Giacobbi et al., 2004). Although first-year student-athletes report heavier alcohol use and higher rates of alcohol-related problems than their first-year student non-athlete peers (Doumas, Turrisi, Coll, & Haralson, 2007), questions remain regarding the psychosocial and contextual factors that best predict hazardous drinking among these students.

The prevalence of heavy drinking and negative consequences by first-year student-athletes provides the rationale for use of screening and brief interventions (SBI) with this population. SBIs combine the use of a screening tool to identify students at-risk for an alcohol use disorder and a brief motivational conversation to guide students in reflecting on how to change their drinking behaviors (Larimer & Cronce, 2007). This approach, typically delivered within a college health center, has demonstrated efficacy in reducing alcohol consumption and occurrence of alcohol-related negative consequences among undergraduates (Seigers & Carey, 2010). In a study of a two session SBI that included personalized feedback on blood alcohol content, perceptions of drinking by other students, and beliefs about the effects of drinking...

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