Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Alcohol and university student motivation

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Alcohol and university student motivation:
What motivates university students' alcohol consumption?

Overview[edit | edit source]

This book chapter will look to identify the motives of student's alcohol consumption by thorough empirical research reports. Motives that the author will look at include adaptive and maladaptive personality structures, prevalence and the biochemical components of alcohol consumption. It will also investigate lack of control and learned helplessness that can result from problem drinking. Internal (intrinsic) motivation structures will be looked at to see their effect on drinking habits in this cohort. In addition to social reinforcement and tension reduction that may affect amount of alcohol consumed as well as sensation seeking and social bonds. Personality traits may contribute in some respect to increased alcohol consumption as individuals with similar specific traits sometimes appear to be heavy drinkers, lastly drinking games will be examined to identify their affect on alcohol consumption in this cohort.

What motivates university students' alcohol consumption?[edit | edit source]

Luckily, in our Western society, university students can decide what particular goal they want to pursue, or how much they want to pursue or not any particular goal. Consumption of alcohol is a goal pursued by many, according to evidence presented by Cox and Klinger (1988) goal striving is a major aspect of peoples' lives and pursuing goals helps human beings define meaning of life. To look at what underlies this striving Shamloo and Cox (2009) identified a motivational structure which shows a combination of various factors that contribute to goal striving. This motivational structure can be identified when the following factors combine for example; when a person knows what to do, then makes a commitment to do something and then engages in an emotional expectation, this combination influences a person's goal striving. However, motivational structures vary from person to person but it is more or less the stable way in how each individual pursues her or his goals. These structures are not rigid due to a person's current concern and their goal in resolving them in addition to success with or failure at goal pursuits as these can change the way in how he or she will strive for their goals.

According to Simoneau and Bergeron (2002), "motivation is the key to success" additionally, motivation as a product of interpersonal exchanges and environmental and social settings both interact with motivation affects. Furthermore, the authors state that motivation is a theory used to describe external and internal forces that can produce initiation and direction and the intensity and persistence of peoples behaviour ( Simoneau & Bergeron, 2002).

Main motivational structures[edit | edit source]

As evidenced by Shamloo and Cox (2009) there are two main structures associated with attaining or not attaining a goal, these are known as an adaptive motivation and a maladaptive motivational structures. Persons with adaptive motivational structures have more positive incentives, greater hope of achieving their goals, greater anticipated happiness from achieving their goals and greater anticipated sorrow from not reaching them, shorter expected distances for goal attainment, and greater perceived personal control over achieving a goal.

A motivational model[edit | edit source]

The motivational model of alcohol consumption (Cox & Klinger, 1988; Shamloo and Cox, 2009) identifies factors of heredity, personality, a person's current positive and negative affect which combine to form people's motivation to drink alcohol. According to the model posited by Cox and Klinger (1988) when an individual is unable to reach emotional satisfaction through other goal pursuits they are more likely to regulate their affect with the consumption of alcohol. These people may drink for instance to increase their optimism, or feel less depressed or anxious (Berkowitz & Perkins, 1986). Consumption of alcohol, in this instance may be a maladaptive attempt at restoring a more desirable emotional state. There is evidence that motivational problems have been associated with excessive consumption (Berkowitz & Perkins, 1986,; Shamloo and Cox, 2009). The higher maladaptive one's motivational structure is, the higher will be that persons risk of consuming alcohol excessively and accordingly the lower his or her chances of reducing their intake.

Mood dice

Prevalence of alcohol consumption in college/university students[edit | edit source]

Ham and Hope (2003), define problematic alcohol consumption among college students is a major concern for public health and alcohol use occurs across many and varied age groups, young adults aged 18-24 years show the biggest rates of alcohol usage and have the highest percentage of problem consumers as stated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1997, as cited in Ham and Hope, 2003. Heavy drinking in this chapter refers to drinking large quantities of alcohol in a single sitting or "binge drinking" or "heavy episodic drinking" episodes which are defined as 5+ standard drinks for males and 4+ standard drinks for females in a single sitting within the previous 90 days.

Overall Ham and Hope (2003), found that "white male" Anglo-American men students had the greatest problem drinking and are likely to be involved in fraternity houses and other social groups that encourage drinking, these students had the greatest problem drinking over other Hispanic American and African American students.

Historical significance[edit | edit source]

Cox and Klinger (1988) and Ham and Hope (2003), report that greater levels of sensation seeking are correlated to high levels of problem drinking, and conversely, low levels are normally associated with abstinence or other non problem drinking. Historical factors that may help a person to drink and influence their motivation to drink again, include past experiences with alcohol, biochemical reaction to alcohol, characteristics of that individual's personality and their current societal living environment. Furthermore, as Cox and Klinger state biochemical mechanisms appear to assist the reinforcing effects of the alcohol consumed. These mechanisms seem to be related genetically and may predispose certain individual's which then result in their further alcohol problems. The biochemical mechanisms responsible and that may reinforce the effects of alcohol are still not fully understood however Cox and Klinger state that what is evident is that there are huge differences between individuals bodies and the different ways we break down and metabolize alcoholic beverages into it's byproducts and these byproducts are controlled by each individuals metabolic enzymes in their body. Consequently, individuals with insufficient enzymes needed for the quick metabolic change of acetaldehyde (which is the first byproduct of alcohol) feel greater negative physical effects than a person with sufficient levels of these enzymes. With the result as posited by Cox and Klinger, these people are then predisposed not to drink huge amounts of alcohol and not then develop alcohol problems.

Motivational factors[edit | edit source]

Shamloo and Cox (2009) identified that motivational structures are either adaptive or maladaptive, the researchers also identified how these factors contribute to ones motivation for alcohol consumption. As you would expect, a sense of control will be related to any motivational structure. This sense of control is an individuals' belief that they have control over the goal outcome desired; individuals in every walk of life strive to augment control over their lives (Cox & Klinger, 1988; Shamloo & Cox). Shamloo and Cox, also found that in difficult situations having a sense of control is adaptive. Additionally, this helps a person maintain motivation to overcome problems that arise. Lack of control is a feeling related to maladaptive pursuit of goals.

Lack of control[edit | edit source]

If an individual believes that there is lack of control over events, learned helplessness may result (Shamloo & Cox, 2009) in that individual which can lead to a conflict with human beings drive to control their environment. Research has shown that feeling helpless has consequences that are negative in three areas; motivational, emotional and cognitive. Motivational, an individuals activity levels and effort decrease and gradually she or he gives up; emotionally, heightened feelings of sadness, hostility or anxiety wear down the individuals emotional well-being; cognitively, a helpless person believes that outcomes are out of their control. Furthermore these feelings of a lack of control of a person's environment may damage the individuals self efficacy and their perceived ability to learn in any situation that is similar (Shamloo & Cox). There are multiple adverse effects connected with learned helplessness particularly associated are psychological disorders, such as depression or stress and anxiety, poor social skills, lack of problem solving strategies and greater feelings of incompetence. Shamloo and Cox additionally found support in their research that these negative feelings are maladaptive and can reduce a person's life satisfaction and happiness.


Intrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

However, Shamloo and Cox (2009) found evidence that individuals with intrinsic motivation are almost immune to feelings of helplessness, despair or a sense of failure. Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation of behavior that is dependent on factors that are internal in origin it is usually derived from feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment and not from any external rewards. Intrinsically motivated individuals are interested in achieving and learning which is linked to cognitive flexibility, self-esteem, positive emotions and creativity (Shamloo & Cox).

Intrinsically motivated individuals acknowledge personal choice as being important when they decide to pursue a goal or not, they also experience goal-seeking pursuits as being meaningful, these people enjoy performance of these tasks irrespective of whether they achieve success or not and regardless of feedback from the environment (Shamloo and Cox). These individuals view their failures or mistakes as opportunities to learn and as a valuable experience to improve their performance Shamloo and Cox further found that these people become even more strongly committed to achieving their goal, they will take risks and attempt difficult tasks additionally, people with a strong sense of control feel enthusiastic and are optimistic about being able to achieve their goals shortly. Characteristics such as having elevated sense of control and being intrinsically motivated are important variables of an adaptive motivational structure.

Goals[edit | edit source]

Cox and Klinger (1988) found evidence that shows decisions to drink alcohol are more likely when people are unable to achieve emotional satisfaction through other goal activities or to overcome frustrations that weigh down their life. The researchers also posited that a maladaptive motivational structure is associated with individuals' lower expected chance of reaching their goals and that these individuals will exhibit greater pessimism. Furthermore, when a persons goal striving is blocked and they are left feeling out of control they can become invigorated and put all their energy to overcome obstacles to reach their goal. However, failure in reaching a goal may, despite all efforts to the contrary, may lead to feelings of helplessness. Shamloo and Cox (2009) found a positive correlation between helplessness and drinking, what might explain this correlation is that negative feelings such as helplessness lead some people to drink alcohol in an attempt to overcome their negative feelings. According to the researchers helplessness, a poor sense of control and maladaptive motivation might be in a vicious circle and an individuals helplessness and perceived lack of control reduce their chance of successful goal attainment and this lack of success in turn increases their negative feelings. However, attempting to cope by ingesting alcohol may further exacerbate this situation Shamloo and Cox.

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Unique cohort[edit | edit source]

Read, Wood, Kahler, Maddock and Palfai (2003), found that drinking motives contribute to alcohol consumption and problems in university students, finding also that social reinforcement in the form of coping and enhancement motives are defined as associations of sensation and enhancement motives expectancies, enhancement motives may mediate opposing sides between emotional stimulation factors (social lubrication with alcohol expectancies and impulsive sensation seeking) and alcohol use, and that coping motives may be mediated between the associations of negative emotion and tension reduction with the involvement of alcohol. Furthermore, drinking attitudes and behaviors of college students are unique and quite different to drinking behaviors of adults or adolescents. Read et al. (2003) found that the social aspect of college (university) environments are associated with heavy alcohol consumption which creates a culture where such use is relatively normal. This normative approach appears to be an important feature that underlies college students drinking habits. Read et al. results confirm that social factors in regard to alcohol consumption do contribute to alcohol problems in college students: however, social factors alone are not central to contributing to alcohol problems in this particular cohort. Social reinforcement of being offered a drink, joining a shout or emulating peer group members drinking habits demonstrate a statistical overlap with enhancement motives of college drinking.

Tension reduction[edit | edit source]

Read et al. (2003) found an association between tension reduction expectancies and social reinforces and enhancement motivation in university students. The researchers posited their results including the belief concerning alcohol's ability to enhance self-esteem and additionally facilitate the expression of ideas and assist relaxation. A student may then anticipate these effects and become motivated to drink to increase the pleasure and celebration effects that are associated with these aspects (Read et al.). The combined influences of positive and negative expectancies in addition to positive and negative reinforcement motivations in college students show a complex association between positive reinforcement motives and reduction of tension in this population. Read et al. data suggests that relevant social factors are a necessary component to the alcohol model of college drinkers. Furthermore, the researchers data support longitudinal models and cross-section data supporting social influence and stimulating emotional consequences that demonstrate significant cross associations of enhancement with social reinforcement motives.

Does alcohol assist with pleasure?

Thus, Read et al. purports the pathways to alcohol consumption and possible problems are not clearly delineated in many samples studied and that a broader conceptual associations such as positive and negative expectancies may be found rather than looking for specific sub types of expectancies. The data from these researchers is consistent with this broader idea and suggest different types of alcohol expectancies are not equally linked to motives of a specific type. Their findings furthermore support distinction of negative and positive motives for consumption of alcohol by college student drinkers. Their findings also support the complex associations between specific associated psychological pathways and associated motivations in the population of college students for whom the social setting is unique and different to drinkers from other life stages with the added inclusion of social influences factoring in their model of college drinking behaviors (Read et al.).

Additionally, Shealy, Murphy, Borsari and Correia, (2007), found there was a significant positive correlation between reported life satisfaction subsets and contemplation scales which indicated that consumption of alcohol can interfere with education, relationships and other goals important to life and that this impairment can in turn motivate problem recognition and change efforts.

Sensation seeking[edit | edit source]

Ham and Hope (2003), posit that students who engage in problem and or risk associated behaviors in general are more likely to also engage in binge drinking which may be associated with the possibility of common sensation seeking tendencies across a number of behaviors. Additionally personality style of sensation seeking and greater problematic drinking has been consistently found, particularly for males. These researchers found that college students that engage in high-risk driving behaviors who also drink have been found to be higher sensation seekers than those that do not engage in these high-risk behaviors. Ham and Hope also identified that venturesomeness and impulsiveness are positively correlated along with alcohol consumption and frequency but not with alcohol-related problems. Cox and Klinger (1988), found personality was a factor in alcohol related problems and Ham and Hope support this statement offering data that Anglo-American males with these sensation seeking traits might be at an even higher risk of problem drinking in college, furthermore a comprehensive review of college students consumption found that sensation seeking lifestyle choices is the biggest predictor of drinking for the "white male" but not other cultural subgroups.

Social bond[edit | edit source]

According to Ham and Hope (2003), social bond theory is a sociological theory that has been used to help explain behavior that is termed deviant, particularly binge or problem drinking by college students. Four elements of this theory have been identified as significant elements, these being known as significant others attachment, conventional activities commitment, involvement in conventional activities and the belief in conventional wisdom which means the person holds significant respect for authority and acceptance of societal rules. Ham and Hope's data support this assertion that individuals who lack conformity and conscientiousness have a weak social bond which can then lead to problem drinking behaviors. The researchers posit that an individual may display problem behavior when the connection between society and themselves known as the "social bond" is lacking or has weak linkages. These weak linked individuals also possess nonconforming and low conscientious personality type behaviors which form a weak social bond. Furthermore, Ham and Hope suggest that nonconformist behavior tendencies will over a period of time predict greater alcohol consumption in these students. This hypothesis was supported in a sample of students from Switzerland that those with low levels of neuroticism and also low levels of conscientiousness coupled with high levels of extraversion had reported increased drinking, drunkenness and driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol (Ham & Hope). These studies that support the theory of a lack of conscientiousness and conformity have poor social bonds that consequently can lead to deviant drinking behavior, additionally individuals that abstain from drinking tend to exhibit conforming and conscientious personality type profiles (Ham and Hope).

Personality traits[edit | edit source]

In Ham and Hope's (2003) work they found support in a longitudinal study that people diagnosed with alcohol abuse disorders in the previous 12 months had high levels of neuroticism and low levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness which were measured on the five factor model, (a comprehensive personality system which identifies relationships amongst common traits, theoretical concepts and personality scales sometimes called the Big Five) a few years earlier, this pattern suggested that people with drinking problems tended then to experience higher negative feelings such as anger, anxiety, sadness and disgust and showed greater degrees of difficulty coping with stress (Ham & Hope). Additionally some students with increased levels of extraversion and neuroticism self reported drunkenness more frequently. Conversely, students with only high levels of neuroticism only reported average levels of consumption but high levels of drink driving. Problem drinkers also self report lowered levels of self-esteem and elevated levels of social anxiety related to neuroticism than the non-problem consumers.

Correlations[edit | edit source]

Additionally, Ham and Hope (2003), found that anxiety disorders appear to correlate with a reciprocal relationship with drinking disorders over time for college student populations. Consequently, some individuals anxiety disorders leads to alcohol dependence, and alcohol dependence might lead to an anxiety disorder in other individuals. First year college students that were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder have been found to be twice as likely to be diagnosed with alcohol dependence in their fourth year of study, and this increased by 3.5 times by the end of their seventh year. Depression has been linked to college alcohol consumption Ham and Hope's paper found depression and irrational beliefs are linked to drinking problems, same with anxiety disorders, there appears to be increased comorbidity of major depression and drinking problems in students with alcohol drinking problems. Depression typically precedes the alcohol use disorder, subsequently, then providing a link to the notion that a depressed individual shows a vulnerable trait for drinking in college students.

Ham and Hope (2003), supported data that self reporting college students who reported elevated feelings of social anxiety drank greater amounts of alcohol prior to delivering a speech about themselves than at their baseline condition. fear of anxiety related sensations increased physiological sensations like sweating and an elevated heart rate have been linked with elevated alcohol intake in college populations. Students with elevated levels of sensitivity to anxiety drink more frequently but drink less per session than low to moderately anxiety sensitive individuals. Consequently, Ham and Hope identified that there may be a subgroup of students at risk of problem drinking patterns that are significantly different from the commonly identified sensation seeking person. Ham and Hope also supported that these students might use alcohol as a means to cope with some specific negative affective states that can commonly be reflective of their personality.

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Drinking games[edit | edit source]

Drinking games are a specific social interaction common on university and college campuses and have been describes as competitions between people with rules ensuring huge amounts of alcohol consumption in short time frames. Ham and Hope (2003) found evidence supporting that over 66% of 2800 light-to-moderate alcohol consumers had actively participated in a drinking game during the previous 12 months, whereas 93% of 1028 heavy consumers had participated in higher levels of consumption and alcohol related problems which included instances of sexual victimization. Moderate and heavy consumers both reported higher percentage of game participation and experiencing alcohol related problems than those people who did not participate in the games. Ham and Hope suggest drinking games elevate the risk of alcohol problems among light-to-moderate drinkers. Furthermore, participating in these drinking games increase the possibility of feeling drinking related problems for moderate consumers whilst heavy consumers experience less than one third of these problems supporting the data that the linkage between participation and problems was mediated by the frequency of heavy drinking. Drinking games may pose as a risk factor by teaching inappropriate drinking expectancies and supporting inappropriate societal normative behaviour.

See also[edit | edit source]

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This book chapter has sought to identify the motives of student's alcohol consumption by looking at empirical research since the early 1980's. Motives include adaptive and maladaptive structures, prevalence and biochemical components along with historical significance. Shamloo and Cox (2009) suggest that a lack of control and learned helplessness can result from problem drinking which is a circle that causes more lack of control. However, this author found people with intrinsic motivation structures are almost immune to feelings of helplessness, these individuals will strive harder to reach personal goals even following failure. Read et al. (2003) supports that social reinforcement and tension reduction is a significant factor to consumption as is sensation seeking behaviour and social bonds. Personality traits may contribute in some respect to increased alcohol consumption as individuals with similar specific traits appear to be heavy drinkers, and drinking games have been found to increase alcohol consumption in this cohort.

References[edit | edit source]

Berkowitz, A. D., & Perkins, H. W. (1986). Problem drinking among college students: A review of recent research. Journal of American College Health, 35, 21-28.

Cox, W. M., & Klinger, E. (1988). A motivational model of alcohol use. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97, 168-180.

Ham, L. S., & Hope, D. A. (2003). College students and problematic drinking: A review of the literature. Clinical Psychology Review, 23, 719-759. doi: 10.1016/S0272-7358(03)00071-0

Psychology Today retrieved from

Read, J. P., Wood, M. D., Kahler, C. W., Maddock, J. E., & Palfai, T. P. (2003). Examining the role of drinking motives in college student alcohol use and problems. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 17, 13-23. doi: 10.1037/0893-16X.17.1.13

Shamloo, Z. S., & Cox, W. M. (2009). The relationship between motivational structure, sense of control, intrinsic motivation and university students' alcohol consumption. Addictive Behaviors, 35, 140-146. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2009.09.021

Shealy, A. E., Murphy, J. G., Borsari, B. & Correia, C. J. (2007). Predictors of motivation to change alcohol use among referred college students. Addictive Behaviors, 32, 2358-2364. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2007.02.003

Simoneau, H., & Bergeron, J. (2002). Factors affecting motivation during the first six weeks of treatment. Addictive Behaviors, 28,1219-1241. doi: 10.1016/S0306-4603(02)00257-5

External links[edit | edit source]