Exploring College Student Alcohol Consumption Patterns Using Social Network Analysis

Rachel Elizabeth Ronau


The college environment is often associated with an acceptance of heavy alcohol consumption, with binge drinking considered normative (Weitzman, Nelson, & Wechsler, 2003). As college campuses continue to face dangerous consequences and high costs resulting from college student alcohol consumption, predictors of heavy drinking must be further explored. Peer norms surrounding level of peer drinking is one of the strongest predictors of alcohol consumption in college students, with students overestimating the acceptability of drunkenness and frequency of binge drinking among their peers (Larimer, Kaysen, Lee, Kilmer, Lewi, Dillworth, Montoya & Neighbors, 2009). This misperception of social norms relates to students drinking greater quantities at higher frequency (Neighbors, LaBrie, Hummer, Lewis, Lee, Desai, Kilmer, & Larimer, 2010). The powerful role of peer norms may stem from the transition to college, as students begin to form new relationships with less influence from family and childhood friends. Moreover, behaviors such as smoking, eating habits, and alcohol consumption spread through social networks, or the set of social ties one forms among friends, family, coworkers, etc. (Rosenquist, Murabito, Fowler, & Christakis, 2010). Thus, the purpose of this study is to explore the unique social network of college students and the network’s influence on alcohol consumption patterns and experience of alcohol related negative consequences. The intricate connections among college students will be examined using social network analysis. This technique creates a visual model of how college students are connected and how these connections influence individual behavior. By surveying various social organizations at a midsized, midwestern university, we will create a diagram to map the web of social connections formed among college students. This diagram will be used to explore how an individual’s position within a network influences his or her own drinking patterns. The results of this study will serve as an educational tool for college campuses as a way to improve alcohol misuse prevention and intervention techniques.  Using a network perspective may determine key individuals ideal for an alcohol intervention with maximum impact on the social network. Results of this study will be presented to demonstrate how the social network of college students impacts alcohol consumption patterns.


Alcohol; Consequences; Networks

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