Category: Addictive Behaviors
Social Identity Theory (SIT; Tajfel &Turner, 1986) posits that identifying with a group and accepting the group identity will influence attitudes and behaviors associated with the group. Although alcohol use is reported by 70-80% of the college population (SAMHSA, 2014), prior data (Uy et al., 2015) suggested that only half may identify as a drinker when directly asked “do you consider yourself a drinker?” Such findings give rise to the question ̶ how do college students define drinker? The current study gathered qualitative data to learn what the drinker label means to college students. The sample consisted of 362 (129 male, 75% White, mean age = 19.8 years) undergraduates at a mid-sized liberal arts university. Alcohol use was the norm as 75% consumed alcohol. Average consumption was 8.1 standard drinks/week, with an average of .7 binge episodes/week. Results indicated that although only 15% of the sample abstained from alcohol, consistent with our 2015 data 50.3% of the sample rejected the "drinker" label. Rejecters consumed fewer drinks per week (M = 2.48 v M = 13.84, p < .001) and reported fewer binge episodes per two weeks (M = .56 v M = 2.25, p < .001) than acceptors. Participants were asked to define “drinker” by responding to the open-ended stem "a drinker is..." Reponses were coded into 14 rationally derived domains. Inter-rater reliability was found to be .92 across 4 coders. Results indicated the four most endorsed domains were: high quantity/high frequency/routine use (73%); positive enhancement/fun in multiple contexts (29%), drinking to get drunk/enjoying effects (19%), and alcoholic/loss of control (17%). Definitions were multifaceted as 60% of participants endorsed 2 or more domains. Participants who rejected the "drinker" label were more likely to use the domains of alcoholic/loss of control (p=.009), high quantity/high frequency/routine use (p < .001), risky/dangerous situational drinking (p=.026), and negative consequences (p=.038). Participants who accepted the "drinker" label were more likely to use the domain of responsible /any use of alcohol (p < .001). These findings suggest that students who accept the "drinker" label may view their drinking patterns to be more responsible than their drinking rates suggest and generalize the term drinker to any form of alcohol consumption; in contrast, rejecters appear to hold a more negative connotation of drinker. This likely contributes to their rejecting the label while routinely consuming alcohol. These results are consistent with SIT and lend support to the label “drinker" being defined differently for those who identity and those who reject the drinker identity. Interventions focused on rejection of the drinker identity may be a fruitful addition to college harm reduction interventions.