Student alcohol consumption: An exploration of the social factors involved in UK student and student-athlete drinking behaviour

Smith, Joanne (2018) Student alcohol consumption: An exploration of the social factors involved in UK student and student-athlete drinking behaviour. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Hazardous alcohol use is considered the most prevalent public health issue on university campuses in the UK. This pattern of alcohol use is associated with risks including interpersonal violence, sexual assault and death. Despite knowledge of the risks and attempts to intervene, the majority of UK students continue to drink at hazardous levels. This resistance to change suggests that for students, there are powerful incentives operating around this particular behaviour. However, there is limited knowledge of the positive consequences which may influence student alcohol use. This thesis aimed to explore the positive factors which might shape students’ hazardous alcohol use, in particular, the role of social factors in student alcohol consumption.

A mixed methods approach was adopted, with three interconnected studies. In study one, a large cross-sectional study, it was established that positive relationships exist between alcohol consumption and the key social factors of social belonging and need for popularity. Students categorised as hazardous, harmful and dependent drinkers possessed significantly higher social belonging and need for popularity scores than low-risk drinkers. In study two, qualitative interviews with an information rich group (student-athletes) provided more information on these relationships and situated them within the context of student-athletes’ social lives. Alcohol use was subject to cultural rules within sports teams, where social benefits were available for athletes who adhered to the drinking rules. Not all students wanted to drink at the culturally prescribed levels, but those who challenged the drinking rules by not drinking endured social costs. When making decisions about their alcohol use, student-athletes were aware of and weighed up the social costs and benefits. Despite the heaviest drinkers being seen as the most popular, there were also some hidden social costs to drinking heavily. Students secretly avoided the heaviest drinkers and saw them as a burden on a night out. In study three, a sociometric approach enabled further exploration of hidden social costs. With a more sensitive measure of popularity, it was found that the heaviest drinkers were afforded social status and prestige but were not necessarily liked. In contrast, student-athletes who drank at lower levels, were well liked and socially accepted.

Overall, this thesis has challenged traditional approaches to student alcohol consumption by exploring the potential incentives associated with hazardous alcohol use. Findings suggest that alcohol is central to the social lives of students, and they make strategic decisions about their alcohol use to avoid social costs and achieve social benefits. Of importance, this thesis uncovered a group of students who did not want to drink at culturally prescribed levels and that there are hidden social costs to drinking. Future research should devote attention to identifying students who are conflicted about drinking and therefore may be ripe for intervention. In addition, more research is needed into hidden social costs.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: alcohol use and behaviours, social psychology, sport and exercise psychology, culture and subcultures, team sport
Subjects: C600 Sports Science
C800 Psychology
Department: Faculties > Health and Life Sciences > Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Paul Burns
Date Deposited: 05 Aug 2019 09:30
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 22:34

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