Psychology: Effects of Alcohol Consumption on the Self-Confidence of College Freshmen

BY: Mariam Sulakian & Suraya Shivji


As Bob Marley once said, “Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction.” Ninety percent of college students consume alcohol, and though this may not be a surprise initially, the fact that nearly all of these students begin drinking in the first semester of freshman year is remarkable. Freshman drinking alcohol upon entering college has been prominent for decades, but why is underage drinking so inviting for freshman? This question is far from black and white. The investigation of the complex relationship between college freshman and alcohol calls for a further look into the underlying factors of influence that alcohol brings about. These factors are relevant to both neural and cognitive psychology because freshman-aged students have minds that are not yet developed, both biologically and cognitively, which suggests that their consumption contributes to their biological and cognitive evolution in college. This study explores the connection between freshman in college and alcohol consumption by focusing on how consuming alcohol affects self-perception and self-confidence.

The short-term and long-term consequences that freshman face when engaging in alcohol consumption are severe. These consequences share an underlying similarity: they all have a connection with how the person feels about him/herself as well as how the person. Each year, more than 690,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who is under the influence of alcohol (College Drinking, 2015). In addition, there are 1,825 students each year that die from alcohol-related injuries. Also related to self-confidence and decision making, College Drinking indicated over 97,000 college-age students who are victims of alcohol induced sexual assault and date rape. About 1.3% of students indicate that they have attempted to take their own lives within the past year due to alcohol use. In examining the consequences that alcohol brings, the seriousness of the topic is made clear. More than that, the potential intersection between self-perception, judgement, and alcohol is established.

In examining the current trends and methodology used in psychological studies on alcohol consumption for college freshman, researchers who have used psychoeducational intervention, motivational interviewing (MI), and surveys have found multiple factors of influence of alcohol consumption in college-aged freshman.   

In Michael, Curtin, Kirkley, Jones, and Harris’s study, three control groups were set up of freshman who consented to participate in his study. Following this, these students underwent “psychoeducational intervention,” where they interacted with MI-trained therapists. MI, otherwise known as motivational interviewing, has been regarded as a useful means of intervention for college students, especially freshmen. In the study, 91 freshmen participated in the observation by psychologists randomly assigning them to classes holding the MI intervention or classes serving as the control in the experiment. The study’s results indicated that MI students had fewer instances of substance abuse and reported fewer drinks within the month the study was conducted. This suggests that MI intervention may be useful in helping college students, especially freshmen, manage their drinking and limit their consumption as much as possible (Michael, Curtin, Kirkley, Jones, & Harris, 2005). This experimental design relates to the trend of psychologists trying to focus on each individual in the study as possible, and creating experimental designs that allow for individuality within the results.

Burke, Creemeens, Vail-Smith, and Woolsey’s study examined the caloric restriction that students imposed upon themselves before consuming alcoholic beverages. The study found that 99 out of 692 first year college students engaged in disordered eating and reported calorie restriction prior to drinking alcohol. The researchers implemented this study during the spring semester of the academic year; time of year is a confounding variable in studies as freshman students’ drinking habits have potential to drastically change from semester to semester. Burke, Creemeens, Vail-Smith, and Woolsey took this variable into consideration for this own study and decided to perform this experiment during the fall semester of college as that is when the students are first exposed to the new environment. Researchers found that 14.2% of the 99 sampled first year students restrict their caloric intake on days they planned to drink alcohol; of this group, 70% were female and 29% were male; of this group, 68% reported restricting calories to feel alcohols’ effects better and 39% said they did it to avoid gaining weight. Of the 32 respondents who provided qualitative reasons for their caloric restriction prior to consuming alcohol, the main themes that arose was having an increased ability to drink, preventing sickness, forgetting to eat, and having a lack of money (Burke, Creemeens, Vail-Smith, & Woolsey, 2010).



This experiment will focus on college freshmen, who are most affected by drinking in that they usually have the least experience with alcohol and are immersed into a new environment. Freshmen are also the most susceptible to social influences and would thus be more susceptible to the social allures presented by alcohol.

Researchers predict that with the augmentation of alcohol use from the beginning of the semester to the end of the semester (a four month period), the self-confidence levels of college freshman will increase in the social sphere–since drinking is often times a social activity–but physically with appearance–since alcohol causes such as weight gain in body complexity. Self-confidence traditionally refers to “our self-assurance in trusting our abilities, capacities and judgements” (Brian). To a somewhat different degree, researchers of this study set the operational definition of self-confidence to one’s own judgement and trust in his or her social and physical appearance and capabilities. In essence, researchers believed more alcohol use would lead to more social satisfaction and less physical satisfaction. These changes will be evident through data collected from each individual in the various groups and the comparison of the data to that of other individuals in the same group (groups will be separated by levels of drinking). Conjoined group data will then be compared with data points from other groups to provide a broader sense of the results of alcohol use on social and physical confidence.

The experiment is designed to answer three primary questions: how alcohol usage influences self-confidence, how changes in self-confidence from the start of freshman year to the end of the first semester differ among the different types of drinkers and how to differentiate between the drinkers, and if there is a difference socially and physically between students who began drinking in high school versus students who had their first drink in college. For the last, researchers predict that students who start drinking in high school may not be as affected as students who started drinking in college, though researchers must in this case also note the potential lurking variables such as peer pressure for students who began drinking in college.

To commence the experiment, researchers first take a simple random sample (SRS) of 150 college freshmen students from one university. Half the students should be male and the other half should be female. Confidentiality and anonymity will be assured to each individual–subjects will be assigned a number as reference throughout the data collection process so that names are not recorded. If an individual chooses to participate in the study, he or she will earn a $50 compensation coupon for purchasing textbooks. Each subject will then receive a questionnaire with two parts. Part one will address the level of the participant’s current alcohol consumption (which would then be categorized as light, moderate, heavy, occasional, non-experienced). Part two will ask the participants about their social life to evaluate their social confidence: how would they classify themselves socially on a numerical (1 being antisocial and 10 being extremely social) and descriptive level of their socialness (very social, talkative, friendly…). The descriptive level would be supplemented with questions as the following:

    1. “I (am / am not) content with my social life.”
    2. “I (would / would not) like to change my personality to adapt differently in social terms.”
    3. “I (am / am not) satisfied with my friends.”
    4. “I (do / do not) think I need to change my social appearance.”

The next segment of the questionnaire features a two part physical confidence survey, similar to that of the social confidence one. This inquiry will determine the subjects’ physical self-classification based on three parts. Part one will ask the participants about to evaluate their physical confidence: how would they classify the personal satisfaction of their physical appearance based on a numerical level (1 being very unsatisfied and 10 being extremely satisfied) and descriptive level, which would be addressed with questions as the following:

    1. “I (am / am not) content with my body.”
    2. “I (would / would not) like to change a part of my physical appearance.”
    3. “I (am / am not) satisfied with my weight.”
    4. “I (do / do not) think I need to change my physical appearance.”

The final portion of the survey asks participants to estimate the number of their daily calories, the foods that those calories come from, and their Basal Metabolic Rate.

Next, researchers break the subjects into roughly equal groups based on their indicated levels of drinking in the questionnaire. During the duration of the experiment, participants will be required to create four log records: the Daily Drinking Questionnaire to track day-to-day drinking, daily hours of physical activity, hours spent socializing, and hours spent working or studying. The Daily Drinking Questionnaire, a paper-and-pencil test, measures the amount a person drinks every day in a week on average in the span of an experiment along with the quantity of hours spent drinking. Another identification factor could be issued through the Computerized Lifestyles Assessment, a self-reported assessment that measures the usage of substances like alcohol and drugs, health related measures like nutrition, and mind health such as amount of stress and safety regarding activities like doctor visits (Kim, Larimer, Walker, & Marlatt, 1997).

Using the data researchers collected throughout the main section of this experiment, the study’s researchers will begin to assess their hypothesis’ accuracy by having the participants take the same survey again; in this way, researchers can evaluate the subjects in each group. To conclude their experiment, researchers will ask the questions about the following topics in order to ensure that researchers understand how the subjects feel after the semester passed: the social changes they faced since the start of the experimental term, whether or not there were any specifial circumstances that altered any subjects’ physical appearance (ex. surgery), reiterate the question posed at the beginning of the experiment about wherein the subject defined his/her drinking level (moderate, abstainer, heavy, occasional, etc). By giving the subjects the survey at the end of the experiment, researchers will be able to compare their answers in the analysis and subsequently draw conclusions about their hypothesis. This procedure will give researchers more insight on possible confounding variables that could have arisen.



In their survey, researchers assigned each defined level with a number; for instance, for the social survey portion, a “very social” would account for 10 points while an “antisocial” would account for one. In this way, researchers will tally the accumulated points for both the initial and final surveys for each individual, and separate the points into two categories, social and physical. Once totaled, the researchers will utilize the four scores each individual has to assess each subject’s evolution, both socially and physically. To see this evolution visually, researchers will take a summation of the first survey’s points, place the final number as one bar in a bar graph, and repeat this for the second survey’s points. Researchers will then compare the differences that exist between the two surveys, and compare them to those of the other drinking-level groups.

The following step is to assess changes in drinking and confounding variables. To estimate the alterations in drinking patterns, researchers will use the weekly numbers from the Daily Drinking Questionnaire to produce weekly averages then chart these averages in a dot plot to observe changes for each individual. Analysis of variance through a hypothesis test can be used to evaluate the statistical hypothesis in this experiment. The null hypothesis, which would show the difference in the in initial and final drinking patterns to be 0, would have to be rejected in this case to support the prediction that drinking levels do change in the general population of college freshmen. The significance level (α), probability of rejecting the null hypothesis when it is actually true (in this case, when the initial and final results are equal), would indicate the probability of a type I error in the results. For this study, researchers will use a 95% confidence interval and a significance level of 0.05. A t-test could also be used as a form of statistical testing to determine if there is a significant difference between the means of the two groups (initial and final). T-tests also take into consideration the standard error, or the standard deviation of the sampling distribution of a statistic. A low standard error, which is ideal, means that scores do not deviate far from the mean.

Similar statistical analysis can be used for evaluation of the confounding variables. A confounding variable in the experiment may include, but is not limited to, increased workload for a participant’s school course. To compensate for this variable, researchers can use the subject’s reported daily hours spent on physical activity and socializing and hours spent working/studying to compute weekly averages of the two components. Constructing a dot plot of the two time-based groups, researchers can note major changes and discrepancies in each. Researchers then compare this plot to that based on numbers from the daily drinking averages plot to determine if there is a potential association between the two. This would help researchers determine the effects of outside variables on the final results of the experiment. Researchers then compare each individual’s plots to those of others in his or her group to investigate a similar pattern. Using the findings, researchers can then draw a conclusion based on these data points before moving on to the overall group data points and comparing those to one another (groups were separated based on student’s self-defined level of drinking prior to the start of the experiment).

Comparisons and evaluation of these sets of collected data will indicate the effects of alcohol on self-confidence and allow the researchers to conclude whether or not their hypothesis was supported; in the hypothesis, researchers predicted alcohol consumption would increase social confidence and lower physical confidence.



Following the results evaluation of the experiment, the research team will congregate the participants to provide a structured verbal conversation between us, the researchers, and the subjects. Acting under the Code of Ethics, researchers will inform all participants of relevant experimental information, including the purpose of the research and results of the findings. Also noted would be the original hypothesis and any misconceptions indicated by the results. The participants can then ask questions about the experimental process.

Why is this experiment on the effects of alcohol consumption on the self-confidence of college freshmen important? Often times, students matriculate into college unaware of the effects of partying, a common scene at most colleges, and thus partake in activity—such as alcohol consumption—without any regard to the consequences of their actions. This study was conducted to test the levels of freshmen’s self-confidence at the start of participants’ freshman year, when they are the most at risk of social pressure in a new environment, and the end of their first semester, when they have begun to assimilate into the collegiate setting. Self-confidence, in this case social and physical confidence, influence student involvement in the college community—participation is not limited to socialness of the student but also his or her academic performance since different levels of self-confidence would potentially cause a student to have a different focus (physical, social, academic) during his or her time in college.

Furthermore, this study provides high school seniors, and new college freshmen, with a good look into their own futures and allows them to obtain a better understanding of alcohol’s influences on the mind and mentality. Because alcohol consumption is a common theme among collegiate students, understanding the trends associated with drinking could help students better understand not just what the effects of alcohol are but also how it can change their minds and bodies.

Researchers can be confident that this study provides a stable platform for trend generalizations in the population of college freshmen because the research process began by addressing three vital conditions to the statistical analysis portion of the hypothesis testing: participants were randomly chosen through a SRS, the total number of students in the population was assumed to be greater than 10 times the number of participants (150) in the sample, and according to the Central Limit Theorem (CLT), since the sample size was larger than 30 the sampling distribution could be well approximated by a normal curve even if the population distribution itself was not normal. For the participants in this study, who were provided with informed consent prior to experimental conduction, this means that the sample of students in the experiment are representative of the total population of college freshmen. Thus, researchers can be relatively positive of the validity of the results.

Finally, the findings provide insight for colleges that are looking into more effective awareness means for students in the context of alcohol usage. By understanding the correlation of alcohol consumption and self-confidence in the freshman classes, colleges can better tackle issues that may arise from resulting issues. These new tactics can in return also provide for more effective means of abstinence from alcoholic beverages, or at the very least, a more cautious approach to usage.



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*Use of this paper without proper citation is plagiarism.

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