Drinking culture at colleges like Colby
During JanPlan, I researched the phenomenon of drinking cultures at U.S. college campuses in order to better understand the drinking behavior of students here at Colby College. The psychological studies that I found focused on the personality factors related to excessive drinking and the effects of a normative drinking culture on college students. Several of the studies grouped motives for drinking into four categories: enhancement, coping, social and conformity.
Enhancement, defined as drinking to increase positive emotions, was associated with high levels of extraversion, as well as low levels of inhibitory control and suppression of aggression. Perhaps the inability of enhancement drinkers to control aggression could explain some of the resident hall vandalism at Colby College. It would be interesting to research whether certain personality traits have any positive correlation to dorm vandalism.
Coping, or drinking to avoid negative emotions, was associated with neuroticism and anxiety. More specifically, social anxiety motivates or prevents a person from drinking, depending on a student’s expectations of the outcome. Students with positive expectancies participated more in excessive drinking, and they endorsed these expectancies more while intoxicated. On the other hand, an environment with drinking can increase the risk of negative social evaluation, so some students with high social anxiety avoid situations that include alcohol altogether. Regardless of intoxication level, female students tended to associate these situations with higher sex expectancies. “Many college students report drinking because they expect alcohol to help facilitate sexual opportunities and sexual effect, as well as decreased sexual inhibitions.” This leads to another question: what role does alcohol play in the hook-up culture at colleges like Colby?
My research would suggest that the hook-up culture heavily relies on the drinking culture. Another study polled freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors on their perceptions of drinking norms for each graduating class. All four classes overestimated the amount of drinking within their own class and between the other three classes. The perceived norms might have influenced the drinking behavior since “students with high class year-specific norms drank at higher levels than those with lower perceived norms.” The last 10 years, rates for binge drinking increased, especially at highly competitive colleges.
Psychologists define binge drinking as consuming alcohol at a rate of five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks for women in the last two weeks. Roughly 40 percent of college students binge drink, while 20 percent of students abstain from drinking. Since 1990, the percentage of students who reported binge drinking, as well as the percentage of students who reported abstinence, increased significantly, creating a polarization of drinking behavior at U.S. colleges. Currently, college campuses “aggressively promote” heavy drinking as the normative behavior, making non-drinkers feel like the minority.
Unfortunately, all college students can face second-hand consequences from heavy drinking. These include disrupted sleep, taking care of a drunken student, property damage, as well as verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Residents of surrounding neighborhoods also experience these secondhand effects. Many of the studies emphasized the importance of on-campus housing options. “Those in substance-free living arrangements experienced fewer secondhand effects than those living in residences where smoking and alcohol use were not explicitly restricted.”
Even though more students binge drink rather than abstain, the majority of students favored stricter alcohol policies. Approximately 90 percent supported school efforts to clarify alcohol rules, provide more alcohol-free activities, and offer more alcohol-free residence. This data, along with findings regarding secondhand consequences, stress the need for substance-free and OASIS housing at Colby College. Much to my surprise, 60 percent of students supported the prohibition of kegs on campus.
Colby SGA recently brought up the idea of allowing the budget to finance kegs for campus-wide parties, although the motion was tabled so that dorm presidents could poll their constituents. Researching the specific personality traits and motives for Colby students to binge drink, or abstain from drinking, will help the school in providing effective programming regarding the drinking culture.