Academic Achievement & Alcohol: A Successful Combination?
John W. Franklin Jr.
The research analyzed the drinking patterns of 112 college students at a private, liberal arts college. A modified version of the CORE Alcohol and Drug Survey was administered. Drinking patterns were determined based on the responses and compared to a measure of academic achievement. 48% of the students who drank alcohol showed patterns consistent with binge drinking. (60% male, 40% female) G.P.A. was used as a measure of academic achievement. T-tests were run comparing academic achievement and gender. Women reported having higher G.P.A.s’ than men both among the entire sample and among binge drinkers. (p=.028, p=.032) The mean G.P.A. of males decreased further than the mean G.P.A of females among students who binge. In a t-test controlled for non-drinkers, intercollegiate athletes drank almost 3 times as much alcohol per week as non-intercollegiate athletes. (M=18.65, M=6.64; p=.000) In addition, 75% of the athletes reported binge drinking compared to 33% of the non-athletes. With alcoholism, and specifically binge drinking, a cause of increasing concern, this research lends support to the strong argument against such behaviors.
The excessive use of alcohol is one of the most pressing problems facing Americans today and nowhere is it more evident than on college campuses across the country. In fact, college students have been reported to consume greater amounts of alcohol than the general population. (Lall, R., & Schankler, S.L., 1991) Additionally, “college presidents have identified the use and abuse of alcohol by students on campuses as the most significant problem affecting student life.” (Molstad, S., McMillan, C., Kher, N., & Kilcoyne, M., 1998)
Alcohol use is extremely prevalent on college campuses, with as many as 84% of all students having reported drinking during the previous school year. (Clapp, J.D., & McDonnell, A.L., 2000; Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) 1995) These patterns of alcohol use may figure prominently in the achievement of academic success. Few young adults have the ability to remain in good academic standing at a competitive university if a severe dependency on alcohol develops after admission. (Schaller, M., Kemeny, A., & Maltzman, I., 1992) Additionally, heavy patterns of alcohol appear to make it more likely that students will experience alcohol related problems such as injury, unplanned and/or unsafe sexual activity, physical and sexual assault, fights and/or arguments, poor academic performance, automobile accidents, and even suicide. (HSPH, 1995; Clapp, J.D., et al., 2000; Carey, K.B., 1993; Lall, R., et al., 1991; Wechsler, H., Dowdall, G.W., Davenport, A., & DeJong, W., 2000; Durkin, K.K., Wolfe, T.W., & Clark, G., 1999; Molstad, S., et al., 1998)
While many extremely thorough studies have been completed investigating the relationship between alcohol use and college students, very few studies have concentrated specifically on the relationship between alcohol use and intercollegiate athletes. This seems to have been an area that has traditionally been regarded as a non-issue. In fact, a previous speculation was that student athletes either tended to avoid alcohol or drink lightly in order to avoid compromising their physical conditioning. (Leichliter, J.S., Meilman, P.W., Presley, C.A., & Cashin, M.A., 1998) This does not seem to be the case. (Thombs, D.L., 2000) The researcher will take a closer look at the relationship between intercollegiate college athletes and alcohol use.
This study will explore several determinants and their possible relationship to alcohol use. The determinants to be studied are gender, athletic participation, location of residence at school, membership in a fraternity or sorority, and academic achievement. One purpose of this study is to determine areas of future study based on the aforementioned determinates and their relationship to academic achievement. The second purpose of this study is to determine whether or not the researchers’ hypotheses seem to be supported. The first hypothesis is that intercollegiate college athletes will be more likely to binge drink than students who do not participate in intercollegiate athletics. The second hypothesis is that gender specific patterns of alcohol use will have a more detrimental impact on the academic achievement of males than it will have on that of females.
Gender, as a common demographic factor, has been studied frequently in its’ relationship to alcohol use. Consistently, it has been found that male college students drink more frequently and in greater amounts than female college students. (Wechsler, H., & Dowdall, G.W., et al., 2000; Clapp, J.D., et al., 2000; HSPH, 1995; Clements, R., 1999; Core Alcohol & Drug Survey, Syracuse University, (CORESYR), 1996; Reis, J., & Riley, W.L., 2000; Wechsler, H., Lee, J.E., Kuo, M., & Lee, H., 2000; O’Hare, T.M., 1990; Schaller, M., & Kemeny, A., 1992; Engs, R.C., Diegold, B.A., & Hanson, D.J., 1996; Durkin, K.K., Wolfe, T.W., & Clark, G.,, 1999)
Membership in a fraternity or sorority also appears to have some correlation with heavier rates of alcohol use. Studies have show that fraternity and sorority members are more likely to drink both more frequently and in greater amounts than non-fraternity or sorority members. (HSPH, 2000; Wechsler, H., & Dowdall, G.W., et al., 2000; CORESYR, 1996; Reis, J., 2000; Wechsler, H. & Lee, J.E., et al., 2000; Engs, R., et al., 1996; Nation’s Health, 1998; Durkin, K.K., et al., 1999) In fact, 62% of sorority members are binge drinkers compared to only 35% of non-sorority members and 75% of fraternity members are binge drinkers compared to only 45% of non-fraternity members. Even more astonishing is that when Greeks live in a Greek residence, the number of binge drinkers increases even more, to 80% of females and 86% of males respectively. (HSPH, 2000)
Relatively recently, researchers have determined that athletic participation may be positively correlated with higher rates of alcohol consumption. In fact, being involved in athletics, not only appears to positively correlate with alcohol use, (Thombs, 2000; Reis, J., 2000) but also “made it more likely that a student would be a binge drinker.” (Wechsler, H., & Dowdall, G.W., et al., 2000)
Numerous studies have found an inverse correlation between academic achievement and alcohol use. (HSPH, 2000; Molstad, S., et al., 1998; Carey, K.B., 1993; CORESYR, 1996; Engs, R.C., et al., 1996) Studies on this subject have found “that drinkers (especially heavy drinkers) earn lower G.P.A.s than non-drinkers.” (Maney, D.W., 1990) Finally, according to Rakesh Lall, “excessive drinking may have detrimental effects on the student’s academic performance.” He continues by stating, that “a student’s grades may suffer because the time required to academically succeed is being spent pursuing or consuming alcohol.”
Henry Wechsler, PhD, Harvard University, is one of the most frequently cited authors regarding alcohol use, and binge drinking specifically, among college students. In articles he co-authored, “Binge Drinking on Campus: Results of a National Survey,” (Wechsler, H., & Dowdall, et al., 1999) and “College Drinking in the1990s: A Continuing Problem,” (Wechsler, H., & Lee, J.E., et al., 1999) Dr. Wechsler describes binge drinking as “the most serious drug problem on college campuses.” His research has found that overall, 44% of U.S. college students engage in binge drinking and that “being white, involved in athletics, or a resident of a fraternity or sorority made it more likely that a student would be a binge drinker.” (Wechsler, H., & Dowdall, et al., 1999)
Dennis Thombs, PhD, Kent State University, is one of the few researchers who appears to have done work specifically investigating the relationship between alcohol use and athletic participation. In his article, “A Test of the Perceived Norms Model to Explain Drinking Patterns Among University Athletes,” he states that “assessments of student athletes’ drinking have revealed that these students are most likely to be at greater risk for alcohol abuse than nonathletes.” In fact, in a recent study, he found that the “heavy consumption rate of the student athletes appeared to exceed that of the university’s general student body.” (44.9% & 37.1% respectively) It should be mentioned that Dr. Thombs did not correlate Greek membership with athletic participation to determine whether any spurious relationship might exist. However, his data, on the whole, does appear to correspond to data compiled about athletes and drinking by other researchers, including Dr. Henry Wechsler.
Rakeesh Lall, a graduate student at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, co-authored an article entitled, “Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST) Scores and Academic Performance in College Students.” He states that college students as a group have been reported to consume the greatest amount of alcohol, compared to the general population, and that excessive drinking may have detrimental effects on a student’s academic performance. Mr. Lalls’ research found a significant inverse correlation between GPA and weekly alcohol consumption, (r=-.32, p<.01) thus adding to the body of research, which hypothesizes that excessive alcohol use may have a negative impact on academic achievement.
This study surveyed 112, main campus, undergraduate students enrolled in courses which were randomly selected from those courses which meet at 11:00 a.m. on Mondays at McKendree College, a private liberal arts college in southern Illinois. The Monday 11:00 a.m. class period was determined to be the period in which the highest percentage of students was enrolled. (551 out of 1170) 26 courses met during that period, of those, 8 courses were randomly selected using a table of random numbers. The 8 courses together had a combined enrollment of 139. Of the 139 enrolled, 27 were either absent of abstained from taking the survey. 40% of the remaining 112 were male, 60% were female. There were 27 freshmen, 24 sophomores, 37 juniors, and 24 seniors. Information regarding the drinking habits and demographics of the student body was obtained from the survey. The information includes class standing, enrollment status, G.P.A., intercollegiate athletic status, fraternity/sorority status, age, ethnicity, marital status, gender, place of residence, employment status, familiarity with campus alcohol policies, and various questions investigating drinking habits. Table I compares the demographic data from the sample with the demographic data for McKendree College provided by the registrars’ office.
Note: Student Body (population) = 1170 (100%)
A modified Core Survey was used to conduct this research. The modified survey was named a Social Habits Survey (see Appendix A) to control for the possibility of negative participant bias associated with questions regarding the possible illegal use of alcohol among college students. The standardized Core Alcohol and Drug Survey long form was modified to reflect the narrowed scope of this research. Specifically, the questions concerning drug usage, as well as the questions regarding attitudes, perceptions, and opinions of alcohol and drug use, were eliminated. Additionally, the questionnaire was condensed from 39 items to 20.
Pattern of alcohol consumption, as the dependent variable, was measured using a variety of questions. A drink* was operationalized as a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, a wine cooler, a shot glass of liquor, or a regular mixed drink. Non-drinkers were determined to be those who answered zero to question 6a; what is the average number of drinks* you consume in a week. Binge drinking was defined as consuming 5 or more drinks at one sitting and quantified by answers to question 4, which asked; during the past two weeks how many times have you had five or more drinks* at a sitting. Alcohol consumption frequency was measured by questions 6b and 8c, encompassing a period of one week and 30 days respectively. Academic achievement was measured by self-reported GPA as reported in question 13b. An academic achievement indicator total was derived from the sum of questions 10a, 10b, and 10c, which asked respectively, how often you have experienced the following: performed poorly on a test, missed a class, or got behind in school work. Ethnicity was quantified as 1) Caucasian, non-Hispanic, and 2) non-Caucasian. The independent variables, gender, and athletic participation were measured nominally using questions 17 and 13d, respectively.
The Core Survey was used based on the reliability and validity inherent in its’ initial development “using American Psychological Association standards for test development.” (Syracuse University, 1996) In addition, since many of the questions from the standardized Core Survey were retained in whole or in part, certain portions of the results may be compared to results tabulated from Core Surveys at other institutions. This may be valuable as an additional method of confirming validity, as well as of interest in comparing alcohol consumption patterns among different institutions.
The Social Habits Survey was distributed, in class during the 11:00 period, to 112 students. All students were told that they would be given a chance to participate in a research study investigating the social habits of college students on a small, private, Midwestern campus. They were informed that the survey results would be completely anonymous and that any data accumulated would be reported only as group data. Students were initially given a copy of the survey and a consent form (see Appendix B). They were then asked to examine the survey, read the consent form, and sign the consent form if they were willing to participate. All consent forms were then collected and placed in an envelope. The students were then give time to complete the survey. On average, the survey took 6 to 8 minutes to complete. All surveys were then collected and placed in an envelope separate from the consent forms.
SPSS 10.0 for Windows was used to run all tests concerning the following data, using an alpha level of .05.
Of the 112 participants in the study, 70% of the respondents (n=78) reported having drunk alcohol within the past 30 days and 30% reported that they did not drink (n=34). Among those who reported drinking alcohol, the average number of drinks per week was determined to be 7.42. Of the 78 participants who reported drinking alcohol within the past 30 days, 69% (n=54) of them were determined to be binge drinkers, defined as one who consumes five or more drinks at a sitting.
Two characteristics of alcohol use and gender were examined; number of binge drinkers and frequency of binge drinking, as measured by the number of binge drinking episodes within a two week period prior to participation in this study. Of the 112 participants in the study, 60% of the men (n=27) and 40% of the women (n=27) reported binge drinking at least once within the two-week period. To determine the frequency of binge drinking, a t-test was run while controlling for non-binge drinkers. The self-reported mean number of binging episodes for the 27 male binge drinkers was 2.30 times per week, while the mean number for females was 2.15 times per week. (see Table II) It appears as though, while males are 1.5 times more likely to binge drink than females, the frequency of binge drinking varies very little among males and females who do binge. (t=.645, p=.522)
Of the 112 participants in the study, 40 of them were athletes. Two characteristics were examined regarding athletic participation and alcohol use; the average number of drinks per week, and the frequency of binge drinking. A t-test was run comparing intercollegiate athletes to non-athletes, related to the average number of drinks per week. (see Table III) The test was controlled for non-drinkers. Intercollegiate athletes, on average, drank almost 3 times as much alcohol per week as non-athletes. (M=18.65, M=6.64, t=5.107, p=.000)
Two characteristics stand out when examining athletic participation and binge drinking. First, of the 40 athletes in the sample, 30 of them, 75%, binge drink, compared to only 33% of the non-athletes. Second, the athletes binge drink more often than the non-athletes. (see Table IV) When a t-test was run controlling for non-binge drinkers, the intercollegiate athletes participated in binge drinking an average of 2.47 times per week compared to 1.92 times per week for non-athletes. (t=2.510, p=.015)
These findings relating to alcohol use among intercollegiate athletes appear to support the researchers first hypothesis, that intercollegiate college athletes will be more likely to binge drink than students who do not participate in intercollegiate athletics.
The relationship of alcohol use to academic achievement was examined pertaining to both gender and athletic participation. Two academic characteristics were examined; predisposing factors affecting academic achievement, and academic achievement as measured by G.P.A. The three predisposing factors affecting academic achievement were measured by the following indicators; performed poorly on a test, missed a class, and got behind in schoolwork. When gender was compared to the scholastic indicators, there appeared to be no significant correlations. In fact, when controlled for binge drinking, male and female mean scores were quite similar. (see Table V)
T-tests run, comparing athletic participation to the scholastic indicators, appear to have greater significance. The athletes in the sample who binge drink appear to be two to three times more likely to score higher than the non-athlete binge drinkers on all three predisposing factors. (see Table VI)
Note: P-values for the total sample are skewed due to the unequal proportion of non-
binge drinkers among the total population.
While only the “got behind in school work” indicator appears significant, (t=3.315, p=.002) the other two indicators are close enough to illustrate the need for awareness.
The last characteristic examined was academic achievement as measured by G.P.A. Females reported having higher G.P.A.s’ than males both among the entire sample and among binge drinkers, to a significant degree. (t=-2.233, p=.028, t=-2.199, p=.032) (see Table VII) Additionally, the G.P.A. of females appears to be less affected by the presence of binge drinking than the G.P.A. of males, as determined by the smaller difference between the total sample group and the binge group. This finding supports the researchers second hypothesis, that gender specific patterns of alcohol use will have a more detrimental impact on the academic achievement of males than it will have on that of females.
GPA measured on a rank ordered scale, 1 – 7.
Difference for males: .2519
Difference for females: .1138
The results from this study appear to support the researchers original hypotheses, that binge drinking is more prevalent among athletes than non-athletes, and that male academic achievement is more greatly affected by binging than female academic achievement. These findings correspond with previous research in these areas. (Thombs, D.L., 2000) Of particular interest in this study, is that Methodist school affiliation appeared to have little impact on binge drinking behaviors of the participants in the study. Although only 60.7% of the participants reported drinking compared to 84% of college students nationwide, (HSPH, 2000) 48.2% of the participants reported binge drinking compared to a national average of 44%. Binge drinking among college students in the United States is a serious problem. Even with the ever-increasing amount of literature concerning the dangers of binge drinking, no change has occurred in the overall binging rates among college students since 1993. (Wechsler, H., & Lee, J.E., et al., 1999) Binge drinkers are more likely than non-binge drinkers; to perform poorly on a test, miss a class, or get behind in schoolwork due to alcohol use. In addition, of specific importance to college students, is the finding, supported by numerous studies that binge drinking inversely affects academic performance.
Binge drinking is of particular importance to students, professors, and administrators on campuses nationwide. Over the past decade, a variety of programs have been implemented on college campuses nationwide in an attempt to curb alcohol use among college students, usually informative or penal, with little success. Over the past six years, numerous studies have been completed investigating the prevalence of binge drinking among college students. This particular study, while adding to the volumes of information available and validating the researchers hypotheses concerning the specific population of interest, merely emphasizes the gaps in the current research and our knowledge of this spectrum of behavior. Future studies should focus on the factors that contribute to this behavior. Not all college students drink alcohol, and less than half binge drink. Until an adequate understanding of the reasoning behind binge drinking behaviors is achieved, this behavior will be difficult, if not impossible to manage.
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