Alcohol use and related problems among college students and their noncollege peers : the competing roles of personality and peer influence
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Although alcohol use and related problems are highly prevalent in emerging adulthood overall, college students drink somewhat more than do their peers who do not attend college. The personal or social influences underlying this difference, however, are not yet well understood. The present study examined whether personality traits (i.e., self-regulation and sensation seeking) and peer influence (i.e., descriptive drinking norms) contributed to student status differences. At approximately age 22, 4-year college students (n = 331) and noncollege emerging adults (n = 502) completed web-based surveys, including measures of alcohol use, alcohol-related problems, personality, and social norms. College students drank only slightly more heavily. This small difference, however, reflected personality suppression. College students were lower in trait-based risk for drinking, and accounting for traits revealed a stronger positive association between attending college and drinking more heavily. Although noncollege emerging adults reported greater descriptive drinking norms for social group members, norms appeared to more strongly influence alcohol use among college students. Finally, despite drinking less, noncollege individuals experienced more alcohol-related problems. The association between attending college and drinking heavily may be larger than previously estimated, and it may be masked by biased selection into college as a function of both self-regulation and sensation seeking. Differing patterns of alcohol use, its predictors, and its consequences emerged for the college and noncollege samples, suggesting that differing intervention strategies may best meet the needs of each population.