Disentangling the Relationship Between Self-Esteem and Problematic Alcohol Use Among College Students: Evidence From a Cluster Analytic Approach

Alcohol Alcohol. 2020 Mar 19;55(2):196-203. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agz097.


Aims: Investigation of the relationship between self-esteem and alcohol use among college students has yielded discrepant results. We hypothesized that these discrepancies could originate from a potential heterogeneity of self-esteem patterns among young adult with an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Methods: A community sample of 343 college students was recruited and categorized with or without AUD using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test cut-offs. College students were compared on the dimensions of the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (CSEI) as well as mood, impulsiveness, alcohol- and other substance-related measures, including drinking motives.

Results: A cluster analysis conducted among college students with AUD highlighted two subgroups characterized by contrasting patterns on the CSEI: one group with a high level of self-esteem and low levels of anxiety and depression symptoms and one group with a low level of self-esteem and high levels of impulsiveness, mood symptoms and drinking to cope motives.

Conclusion: Findings caution against assuming that AUD is associated with low self-esteem, as reported in previous studies. These results rather emphasize a heterogeneity of self-esteem in college students, showing that high self-esteem was also related to AUD. Implications of these results are major for prevention purposes and clinical practice.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Affect
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcohol Drinking in College / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • France / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Self Concept*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult