Student factors: understanding individual variation in college drinking

J Stud Alcohol Suppl. 2002 Mar;(14):40-53. doi: 10.15288/jsas.2002.s14.40.


Objective: Research on individual differences in drinking rates and associated problems among college students is reviewed.

Method: Studies are included if completed within U.S. college and university samples and found in published scientific literature as identified by several searches of national databases.

Results: The resulting review suggests first that the extant literature is large and varied in quality, as most studies use questionnaire responses from samples of convenience in cross-sectional designs. Evidence from studies of college samples does consistently suggest that alcohol is consumed for several different purposes for different psychological effects in different contexts. A pattern of impulsivity/sensation seeking is strongly related to increased drinking among students. This pattern is supported by research into personality, drinking motives, alcohol expectancies and drinking contexts. A second pattern of drinking associated with negative emotional states is also documented. Some long-term consequences of this second pattern have been described. Social processes appear especially important for drinking in many college venues and may contribute to individual differences in drinking more than enduring personality differences.

Conclusions: Future research efforts should test interactive and mediating models of multiple risk factors and address developmental processes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Family Relations
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Peer Group
  • Students / psychology*
  • Students / statistics & numerical data
  • Universities* / statistics & numerical data