Sports and Spirits: A Systematic Qualitative Review of Emergent Theories for Student-Athlete Drinking

Alcohol Alcohol. 2014 Nov;49(6):604-17. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agu061. Epub 2014 Sep 23.


Aims: To review the current literature and critically examine theories used to explain the link between athletic status and hazardous alcohol consumption, and highlight emergent perspectives.

Methods: A search of online databases (Google Scholar, PubMed, ScienceDirect, PsychINFO) and a systematic methodology were used to identify relevant studies for inclusion. Sixty-six articles were included for review (publishing dates ranging from 1989 to 2013).

Results: The majority of the studies were from the USA (n = 52), with cross-sectional surveys the most utilized method of data collection. The literature outlines a number of important sport-specific factors that may be motivating drinking behaviour among student athletes. Moreover, social processes appear particularly important for sport-associated drinking. However there is still paucity in the theoretical underpinnings for this relationship, and the processes through which membership of a sports group may shape its members drinking. The role of identity emerged as an important variable to consider when exploring engagement of health behaviours, such as alcohol consumption.

Conclusions: With the aim of reducing alcohol-related harm, the impact of sports group membership on psychosocial variables such as social identity and well-being warrants further exploration. Future research should explore the role of identity and group-level processes when examining the engagement of drinking behaviours of student sportspeople.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Athletes / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Psychological Theory
  • Sports / psychology
  • Students / psychology*