Newswise — The amount of alcohol an individual consumes on a given day, and the consequences of that drinking, vary according to their motives for drinking. The findings are from a study among young adults reported in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. ‘High-intensity’ drinking, defined as 8+ drinks for women or 10+ drinks for men (i.e. twice the binge-drinking threshold), is a particularly risky level of drinking that is common among young adults. Because individuals may engage in high-intensity drinking on some days but not others, identifying risk factors for high-intensity drinking on a given day is critical for developing real-time interventions to reduce harm. Drinking motives – a person’s reasons for using alcohol – are known to be linked to alcohol use at a particular time, and also vary across drinking days. Certain motives, for example those related to enjoying the feeling of intoxication or enhancing the fun of a gathering, have been previously linked to higher alcohol consumption and related consequences among college students. However, these studies did not specifically examine high-intensity drinking, and nor did they include young adults outside of a college setting. The current analysis used data from young US adult drinkers, both college and non-college attenders, to examine whether drinking motives on a given day differentiated the likelihood of high-intensity from less extreme drinking, and whether drinking motives and intensity were linked to the consequences experienced.

Participants had finished high school the previous year, and most were aged 19. As part of an earlier study, all had reported consuming alcohol as 12th grade students. In the current study, participants completed online surveys over 14 consecutive days in which they reported on their drinking, drinking motives, and consequences for the previous day. For daily drinking motives, they responded ‘no’, ‘somewhat’, or ‘definitely’ to 11 potential reasons for drinking. For analysis, these motives were grouped into three types: enhancement (‘because I liked the feeling’; or ‘to have fun’), social (‘to improve a party/gathering’; or ‘to make a party/gathering more fun’), and coping (for example, ‘to avoid dealing with my problems’, or ‘to cheer up’). Consequences were assessed as yes/no responses to ten negative (such as ‘I became aggressive’, or ‘I passed out’) and six positive (such as ‘I felt relaxed’, or ‘I was more sociable’) outcomes. Researchers used statistical modeling to examine associations between drinking motives, intensity, and the number of consequences experienced. A given day’s drinking intensity was defined as moderate (1-3 drinks for women, 1-4 drinks for men), binge (4-7 and 5-9 drinks), or high-intensity (8+ or 10+ drinks).

Among the 484 participants who reported drinking on one or more of the 14 days surveyed, 79% had engaged in at least one day of moderate drinking, and 36% and 17% in at least one day of binge or high-intensity drinking respectively. Motives for drinking on a given day were directly associated with drinking intensity. On days when participants reported greater enhancement and social motives, they were more likely to engage in more intense drinking (high-intensity rather than binge drinking, or binge rather moderate drinking). Negative drinking consequences were also linked to stronger drinking motives, particularly to coping and enhancement motives. High-intensity drinking led to more negative (but not more positive) consequences for an individual compared with binge or moderate drinking. However, those who typically engaged in high intensity (versus binge) drinking perceived more positive consequences from their drinking overall.

Findings were broadly similar across individuals regardless of college enrollment, with the exception that social drinking motives were associated with high-intensity (versus binge) drinking only among full-time students at 4-year colleges; the 4-year college campus environment may increase the relevance of social motives. Although most studies and interventions to date have focused on college students, the findings show that young adults outside of a college environment are also at risk for high-intensity drinking, and should be included in future studies and prevention initiatives. There was little evidence for differences between males and females in associations of drinking motives, intensity and consequences.

The findings underscore that high-intensity drinking and consequences among young adults vary across drinking days. Interventions that address time-varying risk factors, including individuals’ current motivations for drinking, may be appropriate to reduce drinking intensity and negative consequences among young people.

Drinking motives and drinking consequences across days: Differences and similarities between moderate, binge, and high-intensity drinking

E. Patrick, Y. M. Terry-McElrath (pages xxx)