Alcohol Use in Context: a Psychosocial Investigation of Drinking Behaviors in a Diverse Community Sample in the United States

  • Jessica J. BrooksEmail author
  • Ezemenari M. Obasi
Original Article


Personality characteristics, psychopathology, and other individual factors (e.g., motivation) are strongly associated with problematic drinking, but the extent to which these predict drinking behavior in a naturalistic setting, or how social aspects contribute to drinking behaviors in a diverse sample, is less understood. We sought to identify psychosocial variables linked to problematic alcohol use and examined real-time alcohol-related decision making in a naturalistic setting in a 2-day study involving a structured clinical interview, self-report measures, and an ad-lib social drinking task (following a 15-min mingling period, participants choose an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage to consume in a 30-min period). Fifty-one European American and African American community-based individuals (Mage = 23.78) in the Southeastern United States, classified as either “social” or “problematic” drinkers, participated. Those screening positively for major depression and antisocial personality disorder and those endorsing internal drinking motives reported greater problematic drinking. Individuals screening positive for major depression were more likely to choose alcohol in a social context, whereas impulsivity and social drinking motives were not predictive of beverage choice. Those engaging in social interaction during the social drinking task were more likely to choose alcohol regardless of initial preference. Results suggest social interaction not only influences drinking behavior, but impacts real-time decisions to drink alcohol, which is an area that has been largely overlooked in the literature.


Problematic drinking Mental health Social interaction Impulsivity Drinking motivation 



Data was collected in accordance to UGARF. UGARF had no role in study design, data collection, analysis or interpretation, or writing of the manuscript.

Author Contributions

Authors have contributed significantly to the preparation of this manuscript in accordance with the ethical guidelines and legal requirements.

Funding Information

The University of Georgia’s Research Foundation (UGARF) funded this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bot, S., Engels, R., & Knibbe, R. (2005). The effects of alcohol expectancies on drinking behaviour in peer groups: Observations in a naturalistic setting. Addiction, 100(9), 1270–1279.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bot, S., Engels, R., Knibbe, R., & Meeus, W. (2007a). Pastime in a pub: Observations of young adults’ activities and alcohol consumption. Addictive Behaviors, 32(3), 491–504.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bot, S., Engels, R., Knibbe, R., & Meeus, W. (2007b). Sociometric status and social drinking: Observations of modeling and persuasion in young adult peer groups. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 35(6), 929–941.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Butcher, J., Perry, J., & Atlis, M. (2000). Validity and utility of computer-based test interpretation. Psychological Assessment, 12(1), 6–18.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chartier, K., & Caetano, R. (2010). Ethnicity and health disparities in alcohol research. Alcohol Research & Health, 33(1–2), 152–60.Google Scholar
  8. Cooper, M. (1994). Motivations for alcohol use among adolescents: Development and validation of a four-factor model. Psychological Assessment, 6(2), 117–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cullum, J., O’Grady, M., Armeli, S., & Tennen, H. (2012). Change and stability in active and passive social influence dynamics during natural drinking events: A longitudinal measurement-burst study. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31(1), 51–80.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Curcio, A., & George, A. (2011). Selected impulsivity facets with alcohol use/problems: The mediating role of drinking motives. Addictive Behaviors, 36(10), 959–964.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cyders, M. A., & Smith, G. T. (2008). Emotion-based dispositions to rash action: Positive and negative urgency. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 807–828.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cyders, M., Smith, G., Spillane, N., Fischer, S., Annus, A., & Peterson, C. (2007). Integration of impulsivity and positive mood to predict risky behavior: Development and validation of a measure of positive urgency. Psychological Assessment, 19(1), 107–118.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Demers, A., Kairouz, S., Adlaf, E., Gliksman, L., Newton-Taylor, B., & Marchand, A. (2002). Multilevel analysis of situational drinking among Canadian undergraduates. Social Science and Medicine, 55(3), 415–424.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dom, G., de Wilde, B., Hulstijn, W., van den Brink, W., & Sabbe, B. (2006). Behavioral aspects of impulsivity in alcoholics with and without Cluster-B personality disorder. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 41(4), 412–1420.
  15. Fairbairn, C., Sayette, M., Aalen, O., & Frigessi, A. (2015). Alcohol and emotional contagion: An examination of the spreading of smiles in male and female drinking groups. Clinical Psychological Science, 3(5), 686–701.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fischer, S., & Smith, G. (2008). Binge eating, problem drinking, and pathological gambling: Linking behavior to shared traits and social learning. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(4), 789–800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Giancola, P. (2000). Executive functioning: A conceptual framework for alcohol-related aggression. Experimental Clinical Psychopharmacology, 8, 576–597.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gibbons, F., Etcheverry, P., Stock, M., Gerrard, M., Weng, C., Kiviniemi, M., & O’Hara, R. (2010). Exploring the link between racial discrimination and substance abuse: What mediates? What buffers? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(5), 785–801.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grant, B., Stinson, F., Dawson, D., Chou, S., Ruan, W., & Pickering, R. P. (2004). Co-occurrence of 12-month alcohol and drug use disorders and personality disorders in the United States: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on alcohol and related conditions. Archives of General Psychiatry, 61(4), 361–368.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ham, L. S., Bonin, M., & Hope, D. A. (2007). The role of drinking motives in social anxiety and alcohol use. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21, 991–1003.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hasin, D., Stinson, F., Ogburn, E., & Grant, B. (2007). Prevalence, correlates, disability, and comorbidity of DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence in the United States: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on alcohol and related conditions. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64(7), 830–842.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kerr, J. S. (1996). Two myths of addiction: The addictive personality and the issue of free choice. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical & Experimental, 11(S1), S9–S13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kuntsche, E., Knibbe, R., Gmel, G., & Engels, R. (2005). Why do young people drink? A review of drinking motives. Clinical Psychology Review, 25(7), 841–861.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kuntsche, E., Knibbe, R., Gmel, G., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2006). Who drinks and why? A review of socio-demographic, personality, and contextual issues behind the drinking motives in young people. Addictive Behaviors, 31, 841–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. LaBrie, J., Atkins, D., Neighbors, C., Mirza, T., & Larimer, M. (2012). Ethnicity specific norms and alcohol consumption among Hispanic/Latino/a and Caucasian students. Addictive Behaviors, 37(4), 573–576.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Larimer, M., Kaysen, D., Lee, C., Kilmer, J., Lewis, M., Dillworth, T., . . . Neighbors, C. (2009). Evaluating level of specificity of normative referents in relation to personal drinking behavior. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, S(16), 115–121. Retrieved from
  27. Larsen, H., Engels, R., Souren, P., Granic, I., & Overbeek, G. (2009). An experimental study on imitation of alcohol consumption in same-sex dyads. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 44(3), 250–255.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Larsen, H., Engels, R., Souren, P., Granic, I., & Overbeek, G. (2010). Peer influence in a micro-perspective: Imitation of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Addictive Behaviors, 35(1), 49–52.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lê Cook, B., & Alegría, M. (2011). Racial-ethnic disparities in substance abuse treatment: The role of criminal history and socioeconomic status. Psychiatric Services, 62(11), 1273–1281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lewis, M. A., Hove, M. C., Whiteside, U., Lee, C. M., Kirkeby, B. S., Oster-Aaland, L., et al. (2008). Fitting in and feeling fine: Conformity and coping motives as mediators of the relationship between social anxiety and problematic drinking. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 22, 58–67.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lindgren, K., Neighbors, C., Teachman, B., Wiers, R., Westgate, E., & Greenwald, A. (2013). I drink therefore I am: Validating alcohol-related implicit association tests. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 27(1), 1–13.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Magid, V., MacLean, M., & Colder, C. (2007). Differentiating between sensation seeking and impulsivity through their mediated relations with alcohol use and problems. Addictive Behaviors, 32(10), 2046–2061.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mayfield, R., Harris, R., & Schuckit, M. (2008). Genetic factors influencing alcohol dependence. British Journal of Pharmacology, 154(2), 275–287.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Okasaka, Y., Morita, N., Nakatani, Y., & Fujisawa, K. (2008). Correlation between addictive behaviors and mental health in university students. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 62, 84–92.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Östlund, A., Spak, F., & Sundh, V. (2004). Personality traits in relation to alcohol dependence and abuse and psychiatric comorbidity among women: A population-based study. Substance Use and Misuse, 39(9), 1301–1318.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Paulhus, D. L., & Vazire, S. (2007). The self-report method. In R. W. Robins, R. C. Fraley, & R. F. Krueger (Eds.), Handbook of research methods in personality psychology (pp. 224–239). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  37. Peterson, J., Morey, J., & Higgins, D. (2005). You drink, I drink: Alcohol consumption, social context and personality. Individual Differences Research, 3, 23–35.Google Scholar
  38. Pihl, R. O., & Peterson, J. B. (1995). Alcoholism: The role of different motivational systems. Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience, 20, 372–396.Google Scholar
  39. Rice, C. (2006). Misperception of college drinking norms: Ethnic/race differences. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 14(4), 17–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Robins, L., Cottler, L., Bucholz, K., Compton, W., North, CS, & Rourke, K. (2000). Diagnostic Interview Schedule for the DSM-IV (DIS-IV). Retrieved from
  41. Saunders, J., Aasland, O., Babor, T., de la Fuente, J., & Grant, M. (1993). Development of the alcohol use disorders identification test (AUDIT): WHO collaborative project on early detection of persons with harmful alcohol consumption: II. Addiction, 88(6), 791–804.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sayette, M., Creswell, K., Dimoff, J., Fairbairn, C., Cohn, F., Heckman, B., et al. (2012). Alcohol and group formation: A multimodal investigation of the effects of alcohol on emotion and social bonding. Psychological Science, 23(8), 869–878.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Schall, M., Kemeny, A., & Maltzmann, I. (1992). Factors associated with alcohol use in university students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 53, 122–136.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schnabel, E., Hargutt, V., & Kruger, H. (2010). Meta-analysis of empirical studies concerning the effects of alcohol on safe driving. Retrieved from
  45. Sher, K. J., & Trull, T. J. (2002). Substance use disorder and personality disorder. Current Psychiatry Reports, 4, 25–29.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Shin, S. H., Hong, H. G., & Jeon, S.-M. (2012). Personality and alcohol use: The role of impulsivity. Addictive Behaviors, 37, 102–107.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Skeek, R., Pilarski, C., Pytlak, K., & Neudecker, J. (2008). Personality and performance-based measures in the prediction of alcohol use. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 22(3), 402–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Slutske, W., Heath, A., Madden, P., Bucholz, K., Statham, D., & Martin, N. (2002). Personality and the genetic risk for alcohol dependence. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111(1), 124–133.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Slutske, W. S., Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., & Poulton, R. (2005). Personality and problem gambling: A prospective study of a birth cohort of young adults. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(7), 769–775.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Szumilas, M. (2010). Explaining odds ratios. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 19(3), 227–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tragesser, S., Sher, K., Trull, T., & Park, A. (2007). Personality disorder symptoms, drinking motives, and alcohol use and consequences: Cross-sectional and prospective mediation. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 15(3), 282–292.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Webb, T. L., Sneihotta, F. F., & Michie, S. (2010). Using theories of behavior as change to inform interventions for addictive behaviours. Addiction, 96, 1879–1892.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. West, R. (2001). Theories of addiction. Addiction, 96(1), 3–13.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. West, R. (2006). Theory of addiction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  55. Whiteside, S., & Lynam, D. (2001). The five factor model and impulsivity: Using a structural model of personality to understand impulsivity. Personality and Individual Differences, 30(4), 669–689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Whiteside, S., & Lynam, D. (2009). Understanding the role of impulsivity and externalizing psychopathology in alcohol abuse: Application of the UPPS Impulsive Behavior Scale. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, S(1), 69–79.Google Scholar
  57. Zuckerman, M., & Kuhlman, M. D. (2000). Personality and risk-taking: Common biosocial factors. Journal of Personality, 68(6), 999–1029.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyGeorgia Southern UniversityStatesboroUSA
  2. 2.Associate Dean for Research, College of Education Director HEALTH Research InstituteUniversity of HoustonHoustonUSA

Personalised recommendations