The Effects of Stress, Alcohol Outcome Expectancies, Gender, Coping Styles, and Family Alcoholism on Alcohol Consumption
Research Proposal by
November 26, 1996
One large component of American popular culture today is alcohol. A common stereotype for the effects of alcohol is that as a drug it acts as a stress antagonist. This theory was introduced by Conger (1956) as the Tension Reduction Hypothesis (TRW). It states that alcohol's sedative action on the central nervous system serves to reduce tension, and because tension reduction is reinforcing, people drink to escape it (Marlatt & Rehsenow, 1980). Why do we drink, when do we drink, and how much do we drink? This research will determine the correlation between total weekly consumption of alcohol and perceived stress, alcohol outcome expectancies, gender, coping styles, and family history of alcoholism among undergraduate students. Do people drink more or less when stressed? Do alcohol outcome expectancies lead to higher or lower consumption? Is a history of family alcoholism positively or negatively correlated to personal consumption? Do the tested variables play mediating or moderating roles in stress-related drinking? This research will determine the answers to these questions, and determine the strength of the correlations, if any.
The main question that this statistical model will answer is as follows: Is there any correlation between drinking and gender, alcohol expectancies, family alcoholism, stress, and coping styles?
It has been demonstrated that significant differences exist between the drinking patterns of men and women (Hilton, 1988). In a survey of US drinking habits conducted in 1988 by the US National Center for Health Statistics, Dawson and Archer (1992) showed that there are three areas illustrating gender differences. The first is the actual number of male and female drinkers. The study showed that 64% of men versus 41% of women were current drinkers. Second, men were more likely to consume alcohol on a daily basis (17.5 grams of ethanol per day versus 8.9 grams for women). Third, men were more likely to be classified as heavy drinkers. In fact, when the classification measure of a "heavy drinker" was changed from five drinks or more per day to nine drinks or more per day the ration of male to female heavy drinkers increased by a factor of 3.
Are the theories mentioned above about stress-induced drinking accurate? There have been studies which disprove the Tension Reduction Hypothesis. For instance, in a study by Conway, Vickers, Ward, and Rahe in 1981 it was found that "the consumption of alcohol among Navy officers during periods of high job demands was actually lower than the consumption during low-demand periods." Additionally, some drinkers have been known to consider alcohol as a tension generator rather than a tension reducer.
The expectations of what effects alcohol consumption may have play an important role in drinking habits. These expectancies first develop in childhood as indirect learning experiences (media, family modeling, peer influence) and, as a result of increased direct experiences with the pharmacological effects of alcohol, become more refined (Christiansen, Goldman, & Inn, 1982). Do the expectancies that people hold about alcohol decently predict consumption? Some people believe that alcohol consumption will increase sexual and aggressive behavior, or otherwise enhance social experiences. Many people subscribe to the view that alcohol acts as "liquid courage".
The dependent variable for this research will be Weekly Alcohol Consumption (WEEK), measured by the total number of drinks consumed in 1 week. A standard drink is defined as a 12-ounce bottle/can of beer, 1.5 ounce shot of liquor, or a 5 ounce glass of wine. The predictor variables would include the dummy variable GENDER, where D1=1 for a male, STRESS, alcoholic expectancies (EXPECT), family alcoholism (FAMILY), and difference coping styles (COPE).
The complete list of possible measurable variables are: Perceived Stress, Family History of Alcoholism, Problem-Focused Coping, Emotion-Focused Coping, Less Useful Coping, and Drinking to Cope. For alcohol expectancy outcomes, the following variables would be useful: Sociability, Tension Reduction, Liquid Courage, Sexuality, Cognitive & Behavioral Impairment, Risk & Aggression, and Self Perception.
The data for this research project will be collected through surveys and questionnaires given to undergraduate students at one university, but not limited to one department. An attempt should be made to split the test group approximately equal in terms of sex. Since race/ethnicity and age are not being tested, they are irrelevant for this study. Compensation may be necessary (possibly a beer), as college students' time is quite valuable, and the questionnaire may take approximately 30 minutes. There are a number of tests which currently exist which may be used to evaluate the subjects.
1. Adapted Short Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (Adapted SMAST)
This is a 13 item self-report questionnaire developed by Sher and Descutner in 1986 which is designed to measure family history of alcoholism. This is a yes/no type of test, and is specifically determines the extent of an individual's parents' alcohol abuse.
2. Comprehensive Effects of Alcohol (CEOA)
The CEOA (Fromme, Stroot & Kaplan, 1993) has 38 questions, and is designed to measure alcohol outcome expectancies. There are seven expectancy scales, four positive (sociability, tension-reduction, liquid-courage, and sexuality) and three negative (cognitive-behavioral impairment, risk and aggression, and self perception). The answers are based on a five point scale with 1 = disagree and 5 = agree.
3. Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)
The PSS (Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein, 1983) is a 14 item self-report designed to assess the degress to which situations in one's life are appraised as stressful. There are 7 positive and 7 negative questions.
The COPE (Carver et al., 1989) has 53 questions and is designed to assess individual coping dispositions. This test is quite complicated, as it is made up of 14 scales which are categorized into 3 coping styles: Problem-Focused Coping, Emotion-Focused Coping, and Less than Useful Coping (Denial, Behavioral Disengagement, and Mental Disengagement). The main result we will be looking at is a section called "Drinking to Cope". This will help us find out whether people drink to cope and if so, in what situations.
The regression equation for this research will be as follows:
WEEKi = b0 + b1(GENDER)i + b2(STRESS)i + b3(EXPECT)i + b4(FAMILY)i + b5(COPE)i
The expected signs of the coefficients are as follows:
b1: This is a dummy variable, with only 2 possible values, 0=female and 1=male;
b2: Positive. Increased stress leads to increased drinking;
b3: Both. It will probably be positive with expectancy variables like Tension Reduction, liquid-Courage and Sexuality, while negative with Behavioral Impairment, Risk & Aggression, and Self Perception;
b4: Positive. One would expect an alcoholic family would increase the likelihood of an alcoholic child;
b5: Positive. If we restrict this variable to Drinking To Cope, it should be positive.
I would plan to run a regression using one predictor variable at a time, and then adding an additional variable until many possibilities have been regressed, determining the correlation between the different predictors. This will determine as well which predictors account for what percentage of the variability.
After determination of the correlation between weekly drinking and the 5 predictor variable discussed herein, we will be able to focus on which variables have more effect, or higher correlation. If the highest correlation is found in the FAMILY variable, we will know to spend more time and money on programs which promote "Family Values". If high correlation is found with the STRESS variable, we can direct our energies to making college less stressful. This research should be used as a signal for what needs to be done in the future.
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Conway, T. L., Vickers, R. R., Ward, H. W., & Rahe, R. H. (1981). Occupational stress and variation in cigarette, coffee, and alcohol consumption. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 22, 155-165.
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