Critical Thinking

In weeks of college (Johnston et al., 2004).

 

In
universities across the United States, students are consuming alcohol at rates
that are leading to alcohol poisoning, dangerously impaired decision making,
and even death. Students and emergency workers on campus see it weekly, the
public sees it on the news monthly, and yet few changes are being made to
address the problem. There a variety of different reasons why a student abuses
alcohol, whether it is binge drinking or a casual drink here and there, often
times this alcohol consumption is done under pressure to fit in with their
peers. On a college campus, trying to find your place within the social
hierarchy can lead individuals to many pressure ridden possibilities. Misconceptions
of social norms on college campuses, parental influence, as well as gender
implications can also serve as influencers when it comes to excessive alcohol
use. It is because of these facts that I will be investigating how the fear of
not fitting into the social hierarchy of the university affect alcohol abuse.

Heavy
sporadic or what we call binge drinking presents a dangerously severe health
risk and threat of other consequences for alcohol users and others that are around
their environment.  According to survey
from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) they
found that almost 60 percent of college students ages between the ages of 18
and 22 consumed alcohol in the past month, and about two out of three of them were
involved with binge drinking behavior during that same time frame (SAMHSA,
2014). College scholars were discovered to be more probable to participate in binge
drinking rather than their non-college peers (Johnston et al., 2004). Also, it
was found that on average, about 40% of college students report having engaged
in binge drinking during the last few weeks of college (Johnston et al., 2004).

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These statistics demonstrate why a university environment is a strong candidate
for characterizing the role of peer influence on alcohol consumption.

A social
environment encompasses a variety of different social hierarchy levels. Social
hierarchy is described as how individuals and groups are arranged based on many
different factors (Sidanius & Pratto, 2001). Every individual is
born into a social and cultural setting that includes things like family,
community, and religion, etc. You tend to see significant social hierarchy
levels within a high school environment, but the hierarchy levels continue into
college as well. A misconception that seems to be portrayed about college is
that it is generally not a popularity contest, unlike what is commonly observed
in high schools. Though parts of this are true there are still plenty of
pressures to be ‘cool’ in college. Social categorization is something that
typically comforts us. When you arrive at college you are experiencing high
levels of diversity with individuals from different socioeconomic and cultural
backgrounds. Categorizations within college can be things like sorority girls,
fraternity boys, cultural groups, art majors, engineers etc. Trying to find your
‘category’ can cause peer pressure to fit in anywhere you are able. Within
these categories is where alcohol abuse often comes in; for example, members of
social fraternities and sororities are at greater risk than other students to engage
in high-risk drinking and substance use (Alva, 1998).

Peer
pressure is typically utilized in reference to younger individuals, especially
those whom are in college. When a student is entering college, it can be a lot
more difficult to avoid peer pressure because you are now officially on your
own, and don’t have parental figures to fall back on. Reacting to peer pressure
is a natural human response that some individuals are more likely to give in
to, while others are able to resist. Peer pressure is defined as “social
pressure by members of one’s peer group to take a certain action, adopt certain
values, or otherwise conform in order to be accepted” (Merriam-Webster, 2017).

Peers play a substantial role in the development and continuation of alcohol use
on college students. Creating your own peer network within a college campus
requires students to submerge themselves within the social environment.

Another
reason as to why there is a strong relationship between college students and
alcohol focuses on social opportunities. College culture typically encompasses
alcohol in some way, shape, or form. Most students begin drinking alcohol when
they first arrive on campus. The first few weeks of freshman year typically are
the most vulnerable times for new college students. This is when heavy drinking
and alcohol-related consequences happen due to student expectations and social burdens
at the beginning of the academic year (NIAAA, 2015). College sororities and fraternities
are also a part of college culture that implement tremendous pressures on
students. Students that attend schools with prominent Greek systems and with
strong athletic programs tend to drink more than students at other types of
schools. These programs tend to influence future living situations for students.

Alcohol consumption is highest among students who live in sororities and fraternities
and lowest among commuting students who live off campus with their families
(NIAAA, 2015).

To further
understand peer pressure and how social opportunities influence drinking behavior
on college campuses we can apply it to the differential association theory.

Edwin Sutherland developed a theory that focused on how the dominance of social
influences and learning experiences can be motives for deviant and criminal
behavior (Sutherland & Cressey, 1960). In this case, it would be the effect
of peer pressure on college campuses that influence whether a student partakes
in alcohol consumption.  These
differential associations may differ in terms of frequency, duration, priority
and intensity. The impact of frequency on a college students drinking behavior
may be in relation to if their roommate drinks on rare occasions or goes out
every weekend. Having a roommate that participates in drinking on a weekly
basis will directly influence that student’s perception of drinking in college.

Drinking behavior in this circumstance would be learned through interaction as
well as communication with the roommate. In terms of duration, this could be
direct influence from long term drinking participation from the roommate as
well as all of the hall mates. Priority can be the most influential association
to influence drinking behavior. If a student believes that the first weekend of
college will involve drinking prior to actually entering college they will be
more likely to participate in drinking. As well as if a student attaches the
idea that the best way to meet people is through drinking will also increase
the probability of alcohol consumption. Intensity is the final element under
differential association, this element can be a hard one to explain. In terms
of alcohol consumption, it could be connected to the intensity of emotions and
reactions from participating in deviant behavior (underage drinking). 

An
additional contributing reason to alcohol consumption on college campuses is
because of the distinct shift from parental figures to peers when entering into
college. Abusing alcohol regularly enables the foundation of a new ‘college
student’ identity as well as serving as an indicator of freedom from parental
control (Maggs, 1997). Typically, early in a child’s life parents have a
substantial influence on a child’s attitude and behavior (Kandel & Andrews,
1987).  As these children grow up they
tend to spend less time with their parental figures and more time with their
peers. This process strengthens significantly when they enter college because
these young adults have lost the intimacy of being surrounded by parental
figures they then are searching for a peer network to fulfill that source of
support and intimacy.

We can use
the social control theory to help further our understanding as to why a
student’s upbringing can impact their alcohol consumption on college campuses.

The social control theory explains that an individual’s relationships,
commitments, values, norms, and beliefs encourage them to or to not break the
law or social order (Wiatrowski
et. Al, 1981). The question that the social control theory can help
answer is how a college student’s background and their pre-college
socializations can impact their drinking behavior. There are four elements that
bond our society together; beliefs, attachments, involvements, and commitments.

Applying the belief element to drinking on college campuses can be correlated
with a student’s beliefs shaped by their parents that the less you drink leads
to more success and vice versa. Another correlation with parents can be
associated with the ‘attachment’ element, the student may be too scared to
participate in drinking because their parents would freak-out if they received an
underage drinking ticket. The involvement and commitment elements are more
individualized to the student. Possible scenarios could be a student involved
in an organization on campus could impact whether they participate in drinking or
not. And the commitment element connects directly to involvement, the more the
student is committed to a group or organization on campus the more activities
(possible drinking opportunities) they will partake in.

Within Brian
Bosari and Kate Carey’s 2003 analysis of college drinking norms, they found
that gender was one characteristic that influenced alcohol consumption in
college environments. Within the research it was found that males were more
likely than females to assume positions towards alcohol use that matched what
they believed to be normative (Prentice & Miller, 1993). Women were also
found more likely to be able to resist situational pressures in relation to
drinking. Possibly, the reason for this could be that men experience more
pressures to drink than females. There is also the idea that women are more
prone to negative consequences, as in rape or sexual assault, which could
considerably increase their likelihood to choose to limit alcohol consumptions (Lewis,
Rees & Lee, 2009). Another possibility of these gender implications within
drinking is that men are more motivated to react to the sensation of deviance
from the norm where as women react to deviance with alienation (Prentice &
Miller, 1993).  According to the CDC
adult men steadily have higher rates of alcohol related deaths and
hospitalizations. Also, it was found that among drivers who are involved in
fatal motor-vehicle accidents, Men were two times more likely than women to be
intoxicated (NHTSA 2010).

The
connection between male gender norms and alcohol consumption on college
campuses can be explained by the social identity theory. The research above suggests
that college males are more involved with heavy drinking and alcohol-related issues
than college females. In explaining these patterns, we can use the social identity
theory to further our understanding of male gender roles on college campuses.

According to the social identity theory, we can come to the conclusion that an
individual’s identity is formed from the group norms of significant groups to
which they belong to (McLeod, 2008). Which in this case would mean males who
have a higher drinking identity may then associate with groups on campus who
are more inclined to participate in heavy drinking. Heavy drinking among
college students is directly linked to activities/behaviors related to the
construction of gender roles. In most societies, it is culturally accepted for
males to consume alcohol at higher rates than females, understanding specific
gender roles/traits for males can help explain this. Gender traits for males
consists of things like aggression and or risk taking (Lemle & Mishkind, 1989).

The majority of the events males participate in on campus, prompt them to drink
alcohol, such as socializing in bars, engaging in sporting activities, and
competing in drinking competitions (Hone et. Al, 2013). If males are seen not
conforming to these gender expectations that can be grounds for marginalization
or rejection. Alcohol consumption on college campuses is used by males to
affirm their masculinity and to fulfill their ‘expected’ drinking identity
(West, 2001).

Taking a
feministic approach, we can understand that alcohol consumption is a
patriarchal benefit for males. Males have more access to drinking spaces than
females. Females who engage in ‘masculine style’ alcohol consumption are not
seen as harming themselves, they are seen as harming their children, families
and the society at large. This, therefore causes a societal outcry because
women are perceived as the inferior gender that is supposed to demonstrate
proper and appropriate behavior at all times. Dorothy Smith expresses a concept
called Bifurcated Consciousness that helps demonstrate how women experience a
male dominated world. “Smith uses this term to refer to a separation of split
between the world as you actually experience it and the dominant view to which
you must adapt (masculine point of view)” (A & E, pg.562). In terms of
alcohol consumption this can be connected to the ideology that females don’t
participate in heavy drinking as much because it is seen as masculine within
our male dominated society. While the dominant group, males, enjoy their patriarchal
privilege to participate in more drinking, their female counterparts will need
to adapt to this male dominated society.

The
perception of social norms on college campuses have consistently increased
high-risk drinking levels within the student population. Drinking behavior
within college campuses varies based on how students perceive the ‘norm’
drinking behavior of other students. Typically, the more that a student
believes that their peers are drinking heavily, or approving of heavy abuse,
the higher amount of alcohol that individual will consume (Borsari & Carey,
2003). The idea that students drink more is because they think that “other
people are doing it” is not something that is fabricated. However, these ideas
that ‘everyone’ in college is drinking is indeed fabricated. In the fall of
2000, Robert Foss of the UNC Highway safety research center conducted an
experiment on college students to measure their blood alcohol concentration
when they returned to their homes on what he called ‘party nights’. His initial
findings were that two out of three students hadn’t consumed any alcohol. They
also found that on Monday through Wednesday, over 85% of students had no
alcohol in their systems. This test is a crucial example of the inaccurate
stigmas in relation to college students and drinking. Implementing more
education for students on what the actual social norms are on college campuses could
decrease student drinking rates.

            Though
there are a multitude of different norms within every college environment.

There is direct a correlation between perceived norms and personal alcohol use.

Students may justify their alcohol consumption with their perception of
collegiate norms. Individuals on campus who want to avoid negative backlash
from their so called “peers” may match their peers’ behavior with those
perceived norms. Violating these collegiate norms may make them appear
‘different’ from their peers, which is unwanted in their new social environment
(Borsari & Carey, 2003). Research helps support this idea. Within my
findings, I found that individuals who refrain from alcohol use received less
social acceptance than severe to moderate drinkers. From individuals who do then refrain from drinking there is
opportunity to find different social opportunities with other individuals who
also refrain from drinking. Furthermore, students whom fear negative evaluation
from their peers is a substantial predictor of choosing an alcoholic beverage
vs. nonalcoholic (Trice & Beyer, 1977).

The idea
that ‘society made me do it’ focuses on a Symbolic Interactionism approach. We
tend to see underage drinking everywhere, whether it’s in high school or in
college. We also it on television, movies and even with our own peers. Symbolic
interaction is instituted on the development of human interaction in society to
formulate meaning for individuals (A & E, pg. 465). Normally, symbolic
interactionists look at the meanings that are attached to our behaviors.

However, in this case symbolic interactionist would be analyzing how our
perceived collegiate norms and behaviors influence alcohol consumption.  Symbolic interactionism can prove to be very
helpful in exploring how alcohol can have different meanings for people. A
person’s attitude towards drinking is generally influenced by whoever they
surround themselves with. The relations you have with your peer’s help formulate
your thoughts and beliefs towards drinking. Symbolic interactionism and
drinking focus on the social meaning connected to alcohol consumption. Under a
symbolic interactionist approach, we can understand that individuals learn new
drinking behaviors through interactions, on and off campus, with other
drinkers. For a first-time drinker, he or she will learn how and what to
experience when drinking by observing and interacting with the ones around
them.

Someone’s
subculture can also have a direct influence on behavior related to alcohol
abuse. Mass media is a primary example of subculture, seeing an inaccurate
portrayal of college culture can detrimentally impact your understanding of
social interactions within a college environment. These portrayals seen on the
internet or on the television help formulate the perception that as a college
student you are expected to consume alcohol. Hyperreality is a sociological
term that helps understand this. The term hyperreality is explained as “the
social world we inhabit has become hyperreal, filled with simulations of
reality that replay ‘reality’ itself” (A & E, pg. 608). These portrayals of
college on television are direct simulations that influence our reality.

Interactions will always be an influencer in regard to drinking behavior on
college campuses.

The present findings presented throughout this
paper propose three plausible hypotheses supported by research as well as
theoretical ideas. First, the compiled research was centered on the influence
of peers and social opportunities on drinking behavior. From the differential association
theory, it was shown that the frequency of drinking activity from both hall
mates and roommates as well as the involvement in social groups on campus have
a direct connection to alcohol consumption. A plausible hypothesis to support
the research would suggest that alcohol consumption on college campuses is
directly influenced by both social involvements and peer pressure. Another
focus of this paper was to present the parental influence and how a student’s
upbringing could impact their drinking behavior on campus. The research found
expressed significant impact of parenting on a child’s identity and the
application of this to the social control theory helped explain it further by
connecting drinking behavior to academic merit. A potential hypothesis to
explain this is college students who had more authoritative parental
involvement are less likely to engage in drinking because of the fear to disappoint
their parents in terms of academic performance and criminal activity. And
finally, the direct connection between gender and drinking was undeniably
present through research and theoretical explanation. Both the social identity
theory and a feministic approach support the hypothesis that male college
students are more likely to drink on college campuses than female college
students because they display a higher drinking identity in regard to affirming
their masculinity. 

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