Many college students partake in recreational drinking but somewhere down the road, many start to abuse it. Drinking has become a concern in the college community. Previous According to Magrys and Olmstead (2015), risky drinking is a significant problem among undergraduate students, many of whom exhibit high rates of alcohol consumption (as cited in Balodis et al., 2009). The drinking epidemic of college students can lead to problems down the road such as alcoholism.  Bacon, Blumenthal, and Cranford (2015) stated the following:

College students report high rates of alcohol use and heavy episodic drinking (i.e,. Five or more drinks on one occasion), compared to same-aged peers not attending college as well as adolescent and adult samples, While this style of alcohol use presents obvious immediate health and safety concerns, the long-term consequences of drinking patterns established in college are an additional pressing issue. Though heavy drinking while in college often is perceived as normal, or at least acceptable, it is possible that some students may establish patterns of drinking during these years that may persist and lead to long-term problems. (as cited in Johnston, O’Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2008; Borsari & Carey 2001, 2003; Gotham, Sher, & Wood, 1997)

As the problem of drinking in college students is rising, it is pressing that it is understood why it is happening. Studies have suggested that stress may be a leading cause on why college students turn to drinking. Coughlan, Deasy, Jourdan, McNamara and Pironom (2014) states:

Stress, defined as ‘a particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well-being’ is acknowledged as a major part of the student experience. (as cited in Lazarus and Folkman, 1984; Wichianson et al., 2009)

It was suggested that excessive consumption of alcohol during college and university may increase the risk for alcohol abuse. Stress is said to be one of the most likely contributing factors in high alcohol use, which also increases the risk of alcohol abuse (Magrys & Olmstead, 2015). Previous studies have found that stress influences alcohol consumption in college students. Magrys and Olmstead found that there is a relationship between acute stress and single-session alcohol intake amongst undergraduate students. Stress, whether it be stress from school, work, or the many other things life can throw at a person, takes its toll on one’s well-being and health. Many students may turn to drinking as a way to cope or escape from whatever is bothering them. Although many studies have suggested that risky alcohol consumption is a growing epidemic in the college community, they have not tested the effect stress has on a college student as well as if it leads to alcohol consumption and or abuse. This study aims to make the connection between stress and risky alcohol consumption in college students. Not only does this study aim to make a connection but also aims to be an alternative stress reliever in hopes of reducing the alcohol consumption in the college community. It is predicted that stress negatively influences alcohol consumption among college students.



The population of interest in this experiment are college students. Two subjects were sampled from that population. The subjects were recruited through volunteering to participate. The subjects included in this experiment had to be college students. Also, the subjects had to be at or above the drinking age. If a participant was under the age of consent to drink and/or not in college they were not allowed to participate in the experiment. The subjects could be any gender and of any ethnic background. The average age of participants ranged from 23-28 years old. The subjects were motivated to participate by receiving a $5 Starbucks gift card after the experiment was over.


The stimuli was presented as a game. The game was a  table-top board game. Along with the board game were two stacks of cards, similar to the card game Uno, a pair of dice, and pieces that represent the subject to move around the board. The subject is unaware of what the cards say. (i.e. Go to the bar and take another drink or go home.) The subject has the choice of going to the bar or going home, based on that choice determines whether or not they win/lose the game. The subject’s objective is to make it through the game “sober”. Four or more drinks in the game constituted for the subject being drunk. The subject had to make it through different levels of the game, where they gained a new achievement. The cards were chosen by the subject so no biased occurred. Each time the subject played the game the cards were randomly picked by the subject.


The participants were told to write down how many times they drank in each trial. The amount of trials conducted were six trials in total, three trials for each subject, conducted at the same time. The data that was collected was whether or not one subject drank, drank more than the other, or did not drink at all. The conditions created for the game were that one subject had a stack of cards that included extremely stressful situations and the other subject had a stack of cards that did not include such stressful situations. The point of this is to see whether or not the stressful situation made the subject drink or not. The conditions were compared by who had which cards and how many times they drank. (i.e. Subject facing extremely stressful situations drank once). The participants were explained the rules of the game before starting the game in each trial.


            The mean number of times for participant in the extremely stressful condition was 1.3 (SD= 0.58), and the mean number of times for participant in the non-stressful condition was 0.67 (SD= 0.58). The results indicate that the participant in the extremely stressful condition drank more times than the participant in the non-stressful condition. [t (4)= -1.4, p >0.05]


In conclusion, stress does not negatively influence alcohol consumption among college students. My results do not support my thesis. This experiment allowed students to use it as an outlet to alleviate their stress rather than turning to drinking to cope with their stress. This can help reduce the risk of alcohol addiction in college students down the road. A potential problem with this study is that there was too little of a sample size and also not enough trials conducted. Another potential problem with this study is that the experiment does not cover all the possible reasons why one may turn to drinking. Also, as stated in early studies, there is a link between stress and alcohol consumption. Magrys and Olmstead (2015), found a relationship between acute stress and alcohol consumption in undergraduate students. A future study could be to use the relationship between acute stress and alcohol consumption in college students to find the connection between alcohol use and all students in the college community as I have attempted. Another future experiment could be to incorporate how positive life events can influence alcohol consumption in college students and whether or not that can lead to alcohol related issues down the road.


Bacon, K. A. , Blumenthal, H. , & Cranford, N. A. (2015). Effects of ostracism and sex on alcohol consumption in a clinical laboratory setting. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29(3), 664-672.

Coughlan, B. , Deasy, C. , Jourdan, D. , McNamara, M. P. , & Pironom, J. (2014). Psychological distress and lifestyle of students: Implications for health promotion. Health Promotion International, 30(1).

Magrys, A. S. , & Olmstead, C. M. (2015). Acute stress increases voluntary consumption of alcohol in undergraduates. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 50(2), 213-218.


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About Robert O. Duncan

I'm an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Sciences at City University of New York, with joint appointments in Neuroscience and Cognitive Neuroscience. I also have an appointment as a Visiting Scholar at New York University. My research interests include cognitive neuroscience, functional magnetic resonance imaging, glaucoma, neurodegenerative disorders, attention, learning, memory, educational technology, pedagogy, and developing games for education.

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