This is an essay I wrote a few years ago……
Alcohol use on college campuses across the United States has become common knowledge throughout America. Whether or not heavy alcohol consumption during college has become so ingrained within society as to be labeled a rite of passage is the focus of this research. It is believed that the unique individualistic qualities of the United States which foster emotional independence contribute to the belief that behaviors such as binge drinking are perfectly acceptable while in college. It is also believed that collectivist cultures convey social stigmas against problem drinking in college and that those beliefs become so engrained in their young adults that it prevents them from viewing heavy drinking as acceptable. This essay considers a cross-cultural comparison of American born students who attend American colleges, and foreign born students who attend American colleges and whether or not the average student adopts the pattern of problem drinking that has become the norm on college campuses.
Cross Cultural Comparison: Alcohol Use on Campus
Introduction to the Problem
Excessive alcohol use among American college students has become a popular topic in both the academic and news media arenas; so much so that researchers such as Grossman, Platt, and Sloan (2011) have suggested that heavy drinking in college is seen as a rite of passage. While various forms of chemical substance use is on the rise among all ages in America; alcohol consumption during young adulthood has been shown to peak during the college years giving rise to the concern that heavy alcohol consumption, such as binge drinking, is in fact viewed as a rite of passage into adulthood and is possibly a direct result of societal influences (Fromme & Quinn, 2011). However, negative patterns of alcohol consumption are nearly non-existent among students who attend universities in collectivist cultures where alcohol abuse is looked down upon (Angermeyer et al., 2008). It is believed that individualistic cultures (like America) cultivate a sense of emotional independence which can lead to problem drinking among American college students whereas collectivist cultures imbue a sense of emotional dependence; students from collectivist cultures are more likely to stay away from problem drinking as they do not want to bring shame upon their family name (Buda & Elsayed-Elkhouly, 1998)
The adverse effects that heavy alcohol consumption has upon the academic performance of college students is both a matter of common sense as well as having been well documented by various research studies (Buckman et al., 2011). The obvious rigors of a normal college experience that involves listening to lectures, writing essays, and studying for tests can obviously be complicated and interfered with when students engage in problem drinking. The term problem drinking can of course be somewhat relative but in many research studies on the topic there tends to be a number of commonly accepted characteristics; drinking that is illegal (i.e. underage), drinking the night before an exam, binge drinking (5 drinks or more), blacking out, and various forms of uncontrolled drinking (Boekeloo, Bush, and Novik, 2011).
Heavy alcohol consumption among college students is especially troubling since many studies have shown that a high percentage of students who are getting drunk are actually below the legal American drinking age and are in effect breaking the law (Boekeloo, Bush, and Novik, 2011).
However, whether or not heavy alcohol consumption is indeed a result of environmental influences (such as being viewed as a rite of passage) is difficult to measure as Boekeloo, Bush, and Novik (2011) point out; few research studies have been performed to determine whether or not incoming American college freshman get drunk intentionally as a rite of passage or unintentionally due to other variables.
Research Question, Hypotheses, and Variables
This paper presents the hypothesis that the American culture (including the college experience) involves unique cultural influences that contribute toward elevated levels of problem drinking and that this culture of drinking to get drunk is perpetuated prior to a student attending college. Specifically, it is hypothesized that individualistic cultures (such as America) contain societal influences that lead to high levels of problem drinking among college students compared to the students of non-individualistic cultures. Thus, this hypothesis would be measured by demonstrating that American students who attend American colleges will be more likely to engage in problem drinking than foreign born students (from collectivist cultures where drinking is looked down upon) that attend American universities. Essentially, it is believed that the average American student will adopt the social customs and norms of the university they attend but the foreign student will be less likely to adopt the American influences which they would believe are contrary to their own belief systems. This hypothesis has merit in the basis of the many research studies that have been performed with regard to Americans adopting the drinking patterns of the area they live (Bae et al., 2005). Bae et al. (2005) published a research study which suggested there was a direct correlation between the alcohol consumption patterns of U.S. military personnel and the country that the soldier was relocated.
The role of cultural influences with regard to problem drinking has been well documented but whether or not certain country’s foster problem drinking more than other country’s is of course a question that must answered (Bae et al., 2005). In this proposed research study the dependent variable is the alcohol pattern of the college student who attends an American university. The independent variable in this research hypothesis is the cultural influences that a particular university has upon the alcohol usage patterns of the college student. If there are indeed unique cultural characteristics of the American college experience that contribute to elevated levels of problem drinking than this research study would offer a wealth of information in addressing the problem.
As with any cross-cultural study the many different variables present in this study are plentiful; the differences between countries, universities, type of education, and much more would all be considered extraneous. The personality of the individual, gender, their family life, their own level of education and socioeconomic status would also be considered potential variables.
Baughman et al. (2011) demonstrated that individuals who had suffered abuse as a child exhibit a higher likelihood of problem drinking later in life. Thus, it is not only important to consider the many variables associated with the differences between countries, universities, and personalities, but the unique individual life experience of each participant is also a variable that should be weighed.
Parenting styles is another area which poses important concerns for this study. For instance, the parenting styles of one American family to the next might be radically different and could be a crucial variable; if a particular American family actually practices a parenting style more reflective of that found in communal cultures this would act as a mediating effect in the child when they attend college. Thus, it is possible that it is not merely the culture of college that leads students into believing alcohol is a rite of passage but perhaps the culture of family life in America that leads to the belief. However, despite this powerful variable, the research hypothesis is still secure in the idea that it is the culture of American in general that leads to problem drinking.
Due to the well documented interest in the area of substance use and abuse there is a tremendous amount of literature on this subject. In the article “Regional differences in alcohol use among U.S. military personnel” published by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, authors Bae et al. (2005) performed a research study using information from a Federally sponsored survey on the drinking habits of U.S. military personnel who had been transferred to countries overseas. Bae et al. (2005) hypothesized that the average military personnel (whether male or female) would likely adopt the drinking patterns of the society in which they resided. The Bae et al. (2005) study presents a powerful argument in favor of societal influence in alcoholic drinking patterns as they found that military personnel who were transferred to countries where getting drunk is frowned upon were less likely to exhibit problem drinking, and military personnel transferred to countries where alcoholism is less of a taboo were more likely to engage in excessive drinking. Unfortunately, the Bae et al. (2005) study is not without problems as the researchers themselves admit since the plethora of extraneous variables that exist from one country to the next, and from one soldier to the next are rather high.
On the subject of whether or not there is a culture of drinking to get drunk in college, authors Boekeloo, Bush, and Novik (2011) present information from their survey research study which sought to determine whether or not the average American college freshman drinks alcoholic beverages with the express intention of getting drunk or whether getting drunk is unintentional. The authors hypothesized that incoming college freshman view heavy drinking as a rite of passage and expected to find the majority of freshmen admit to purposely getting drunk (Boekeloo, Bush, and Novik, 2011). They also suspected that drinking as a rite of passage leads to negative effects in the student’s academic life (Boekeloo, Bush, and Novik, 2011). The study involved an equal representation of more than four hundred male and female college students who completed a Web based survey (Boekeloo, Bush, and Novik, 2011). The work of Boekeloo, Bush, and Novik (2011) is quite compelling as they found that more than 75% of incoming freshman admitted to drinking alcohol to get drunk and that such behavior appeared to have a direct correlation to negative effects on the student’s academic performance. The students who admitted that they drank to get drunk also exhibited higher levels of problem drinking (Boekeloo, Bush, and Novik, 2011).
The biological and psychological effects of chemical substance use on college students is documented in a study by authors Buckman et al., (2011) whose research study was designed to determine the causes of chemical substance use among college students. The authors hypothesized that individuals who used tobacco were more likely to use other chemical substances such as marijuana and that the main motivators of using chemical substances had to do with reducing stress and anxiety and wanting the pleasure (i.e. sensation) associated with chemical substances (Buckman et al., 2011). The data from their findings showed that reducing stress was not a high indicator of marijuana use but that chemical substance use was however associated with negative academic performance (Buckman et al., 2011). This research study is a good representation of the many studies which link poor academic performance with chemical substance use and is also valuable in the findings of the researchers which pointed toward the idea that chemical substance use during college is not always related to stress; there is indeed the possibility that American college students view alcohol and drugs during college as a rite of passage (Buckman et al., 2011).
The difference between individualistic cultures and collectivist cultures has become an area of growing interest among psychological circles. In the article “Cultural differences between Arabs and Americans; individualism-collectivism revisited” published by the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, authors Buda and Elsayed-Elkhouly (1998) discuss the findings of their research study which focused on the psychological differences between Americans and Arab; they hypothesized that individuals from Arab countries (widely considered to be collectivists cultures) would exhibit more communal attitudes in their personality, while participants from America would exhibit highly individualistic attitudes. The authors conducted a personality survey test on more than 200 Arabs from Egpyt and the Persian Gulf and more than 100 Americans from the East Coast (Buda & Elsayed-Elkhouly, 1998). The data from their findings demonstrated answers exactly in keeping with the authors hypothesis; Americans were more likely to exhibit personalities which encompassed emotional independence, privacy, the right to one’s own decisions, and other individualistic themed responses whereas the Arabs provided responses that were quite the opposite (Buda & Elsayed-Elkhouly, 1998). This study is an excellent example and representation of the many studies which have demonstrated the major cultural differences between America and collectivist societies. Americans being highly individualistic are more likely to make decisions based on personal preference than on family preference. Thus, in relation to alcohol patterns in college, this would mean that individuals raised in collectivist cultures that look down on alcohol would be more likely to conform to societal pressure than men and women from individualistic cultures.
The effects of alcohol in relation to aggression and its socioeconomic factors is also an area of well documented interest. In the article “Drinking style and dating violence in a sample of urban, alcohol-using youth” published by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, authors Baughman et al. (2011) discuss the findings of their research study in which they hypothesized that early childhood abuse and alcohol use among teens has a direct correlation with behavioral problems and domestic violence (DV). The study involved more than 400 male and female participants under the age of 21 who had been patients at an urban centered hospital (Baughman et al., 2011). Surprisingly, the initial hypothesis of the researchers (that alcohol contributed to elevated levels of behavioral problems) was found to be not entirely accurate; while alcohol was linked to higher levels of aggression, alcohol appeared to have no significance on participants who exhibited levels of problem behavior (Baughman et al., 2011). Thus, if an individual is predisposed to problem behavior, whether or not they drink alcohol excessively will not increase or decrease their likelihood of committing DV. This study provides valuable insight with regard to the idea that alcohol can indeed be connected to negative behavioral outcomes, yet individuals who are predisposed toward certain behaviors are not necessarily always affected by alcohol.
In the article “Alcohol use and related problems among college students and their noncollege peers: the competing roles of personality and peer influence” published by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, authors Fromme and Quinn (2011) discuss the findings of their research study in which they wanted to learn what influenced college students the most to abuse alcohol; peer influence or the student’s own unique personality. It was the researcher’s hypothesis that the average college student is more goal oriented than non-college students, and that it is peer influence which contributes to their problem drinking and not their personality (Fromme & Quinn, 2011). This study was a very long term (4 years) and comprehensive study that involved more than four thousand students (Fromme & Quinn, 2011). The data compiled in the study provided the researchers a strong argument in favor of their theory that the social group a college student spends time with is the number one indicator as to the type of drinking habits the student adopts (Fromme & Quinn, 2011). Students in the study exhibited higher levels of alcohol consumption than the non-college students surveyed, but according to the researchers the college students exhibited less problems connected to alcohol (such as drunk driving) than the non-students (Fromme & Quinn, 2011). There are however limitations in the research of Fromme and Quinn (2011) as the cross-section of non-college students they selected were not a control group. Thus, the extraneous variables with a random survey of non-college students is rather high and the authors suggested further research on the subject was definitely warranted (Fromme & Quinn, 2011).
In the area of cross-cultural studies on the subject of alcohol use, Angermeyer et al., (2008) provides valuable insight via their research study which compared worldwide alcohol consumption rates between numerous countries. Angermeyer et al. (2008) demonstrated effectively that collectivist cultures exhibit low levels of alcohol abuse compared to individualistic cultures where the rates were much higher. Grossman, Platt, and Sloan (2011) discuss their research study which focused on the question of whether or not heavy drinking during the college years is connected to negative behavioral effects later in the lifespan. The authors hypothesized that heavy drinking during the college years led to negative educational endeavors later in life and a greater likelihood of chemical dependence (Grossman, Platt, & Sloan, 2011). The study incorporated a previous data sample of more than 10,000 participants that surveyed individuals on a number of issues such as chemical substance use, education accomplishment, career successes and much more (Grossman, Platt, & Sloan, 2011). The authors concluded that heavy alcohol use during the college years was directly correlated to chemical dependence later in life, but had little to no correlation with any negative future educational endeavors (Grossman, Platt, & Sloan, 2011). This study provides excellent support for the theory that heavy drinking in college should not be viewed as a positive rite of passage as it can possibly lead to chemical dependency issues later in life (Grossman, Platt, & Sloan, 2011).
In the article “Alcohol consumption in tertiary education students” published by the Journal BMC Public Health, authors Jorm et al. (2011) discuss the findings of their research in which they explain that the number one problem associated with early death and serious illness among college students in Australia and New Zealand is heavy alcohol consumption. The findings of this study were based on the authors reviewing numerous behavioral studies of Australian college students, New Zealand students and Asian students (Jorm et al., 2011). The authors were able to effectively assert to propositions; students from cultures that do not have high levels of alcohol consumption (specifically Asia) exhibited lower levels of risky drinking patterns and students from Australia and New Zealand where problem drinking is high, were more likely to exhibit risking alcoholic behavior patterns (Jorm et al., 2011). This research study provides a strong defense in favor of the idea that where a student attends college is connected to their alcohol consumption behaviors.
With regard to the ethical ramifications of a research study on chemical substance abuse, Bogenschutz and Geppert (2009) present valuable information in their article which they discuss the tendency of substance abuse studies to focus entirely on preserving the privacy of participants. Bogenschutz and Geppert (2009) suggest that while privacy of participants is of course essential, there are many other ethical considerations that researchers should consider such as gaining informed consent.
When conducting any type of comparative analysis that involves learning about the private behavioral choices and attitudes of participants privacy of participants is of the utmost concern. This present paper focuses on the alcohol and chemical substance patterns of participants and the information that participants share must be kept confidential and secure. Bogenschutz and Geppert (2009) believe there are seven important ethical areas that should be observed when conducting a research study on chemical substance use. In a previous research paper this author summarized Bogenschutz and Geppert’s (2009) seven mandates as being; enhancement in the knowledge of substance abuse must be accomplished, the research must be valid, there must be an objective criteria behind participant selection, the safety of participants should be maintained, secondary sources should review the study, informed consent should be gained for all participants involved, and the researchers must maintain a sense of integrity by always exhibiting respect towards the participants.
Thus, the information presented by Bogenschutz and Geppert (2009) provides a good foundation and outline when considering the ethical ramifications of a research study on chemical substance use.
Participant Characteristics and Sampling
The proposed method for this research for this type of study involves surveying American young adults (between the ages of 18 – 25) who attend American based universities and foreign born students who attend American universities. Three separate surveys would be completed by participants; the first survey would be done prior to the student attending college, the second would be completed during college, and the third section would be completed by the student upon graduation.
An equal representation of participants in the area of gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and other socio-cultural elements would need to be established as to avoid any research error. Salkind (2009) suggests that a minimum research size should be 30 participants, however in this study it is proposed that the participant size would be a minimum of 100 American born students and 100 foreign born students who attend American colleges. In order to effectively represent the vast cross section of the homogenous American culture the various factors such as urban versus suburban and the vast difference between those on the high level of income status and those at the bottom should be considered in the study.
Other areas of concern would be to identify students who attend private universities and those who attend public universities as the standards of private versus public may possibly vary state by state and even city by city.
The survey that participants would be asked to partake in would involve 150 questions that focus on the many different factors related to alcohol and chemical substance consumption. The survey would involve three sections that are designed to address the different components of social influence with regard to alcohol consumption. Section one is aimed at determining the participant’s attitude toward alcohol prior to attending college; do their parents drink or not drink, is there a history of substance abuse in the participant’s home life, does the participant expect to drink excessively, moderately, or abstain altogether while in college, and more. Section one would also determine the incoming freshman’s GPA, educational accomplishments and the educational expectations of the student as well as whether or not the student’s family would be disappointed to learn of the student drinking excessively in college.
Section two of the survey would be completed by the participant while in college and would address the student’s actual alcohol behavior; is the student drinking regularly, irregularly, or not at all. Do the student’s alcohol behaviors match the student’s own expectations prior to attending college? What social influences are most the integral in the student’s alcohol consumption, and other such questions would be administered.
The third section of the study is a post-graduation study and would involve follow up questions related to the first two questions to determine whether or not the expectations of the student prior to attending college were met in their college experience; did the student become a problem drinker unexpectedly? Did the student adopt the typical alcohol patterns of the student body they were apart of?
Expected Findings and Discussion
It is believed that the American born participants who attend colleges and universities where high rates of alcohol consumption (such as binge drinking) is the norm will tend to adopt the pattern of the students around them. Secondly, it is believed that the foreign born students who come from collectivist cultures where problem drinking is looked down upon will tend to avoid patterns of problem drinking. Because of the social stigma against problem drinking in collectivist cultures, it is believed that foreign born students who attend American universities will avoid adopting the American cultural experience of drinking to get drunk. It is expected that when foreign students do drink excessively; the frequency of such drinking will be considerably less compared to their American counterparts and that the foreign born students will likely admit to feeling ashamed of having been drunk.
In the post-graduation survey it is expected that foreign born students will view problem drinking during college as something negative they look back upon, and that American born students will view their problem drinking in college as something they look back upon with fondness.
Summary and Conclusion
Problem drinking among young adults is clearly a national problem and one that needs to be addressed. If it can be demonstrated that problem drinking exists because young adults actually view it positively (as a rite of passage) than this feature of American culture should be considered as something deficient which needs to be changed. Problem drinking that leads to low academic performance, poor athletic performance, higher rates of aggression, or even to the point of fatalities is no small matter and one that every American should recognize as serious.
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