Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology

Specialization

Clinical Psychology

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Nichea Spillane

Abstract

Binge drinking among college students presents a significant public health concern given the frequency and the associated negative health and social consequences. There are a variety of reasons why college students decide to binge drink (and to drink more broadly), including drinking to cope with negative emotional experiences, including when stressed. One factor that may be playing a role in the relationships among stress, drinking to cope, and binge drinking is positive emotion. Positive emotion has been found to be linked to the ways in which individuals appraise stressful situations, with those higher in positive emotion being more likely to appraise stressful situations as moments in which they can gain some mastery rather than obstacles that will be difficult to overcome. Further, individuals who endorse drinking to cope have been found to be lower in positive emotions. These positive emotions may be serving as a buffer, limiting experiences of stress or changing the way stress is perceived, and therefore making people less likely to use alcohol to cope with stress. To explore these associations, college students from the University of Rhode Island completed an online survey assessing their self-rated levels of stress, intensity and frequency of experiencing positive emotions, and frequency of binge drinking. Approximately three-quarters of the sample reported having consumed alcohol during the past month and of those, nearly two-thirds reported at least one binge drinking episode during the past month. Stress and positive emotions did not appear to be significantly related to frequency of binge drinking, but were significantly correlated with coping motives for drinking. Regression analyses with all predictors, age, and gender entered into the model revealed the same results: stress and positive emotion were not significantly related to binge drinking, but were significantly related to coping motives. The interaction between stress and positive emotions predicting frequency of binge drinking or coping motives was nonsignificant. Findings of the present study indicate that, among college students, stress may not be a contributing factor to the decision to binge drink. It may be that college students are engaging in other behaviors to manage stress, or that measures included in the current study do not fully capture college students’ experiences of stress or positive emotional experiences. Findings of the present study suggest the potential utility of targeting positive emotions in efforts to decrease coping-related alcohol use among those college students who are receiving treatment due to their alcohol consumption.

Available for download on Friday, September 27, 2019

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