INTRODUCTION The Correlation Between Alcohol Consumption and Risky Behavior during Mardi Gras and Spring Break in College StudentsEvery year, hundreds of thousands of college students partake in the college tradition known as Spring Break. For college students in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is their mid-semester holiday and it upholds a reputation for being just as wild, if not wilder, than any Spring Break getaway. This time of forgetting about everyday problems and cutting loose is also accompanied by the engagement in risky behavior. Out of control coeds engage in unprotected and casual sex, consume illegal drugs and find themselves in physical confrontations with others every year at Spring Break. A pattern that one can’t help notice is that more males find themselves in these types of risky situations more often than females. The catalyst for this kind of behavior could be a number of different reasons. What is it, exactly, that causes college students to put themselves in these endangering situations? The precise answer to that may never be found but several researchers have discovered that the consumption of alcohol plays an important role in risky behavior. As for college students in New Orleans, perhaps the fact that they are in New Orleans is a contributing variable to risky behavior. The reason that it appears that men are more likely to engage in risky behavior during times of high alcohol consumption such as Mardi Gras and Spring Break is biological. Testosterone levels in men are decreased following alcohol intake, and as a result of this, the brain and pituitary gland are instructed to produce more hormones that stimulate increased production of testosterone by the testes (Mendelson and Mello, 1985). This may explain why males, particularly those in college, act more wildly than their female counterparts while consuming large quantities of alcohol, particularly when getting into physical confrontations
with other males that are under the influence of alcohol are concerned. Similar research done on females did not show that alcohol had the same effects on female hormones (Mendelson and Mello, 1985). A time when perhaps, both college males and females are at their wildest is during Spring Break.A study that collected data from 830 male and female Canadian college students on Spring Break in Florida showed that 39 students who had sexual intercourse with someone they met on Spring Break (casual sex) and 256 students who “fooled around in a sexual way” had consumed alcohol prior to engaging in these sexual acts (Maticka and Herold, 1997). According to this research, there is a link between risky sexual behavior and alcohol consumption.Other studies show that college students who on average consumed large amounts of alcohol are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. One study looked at 304 college students and by means of questionnaires examined the relation between sexual risk-taking and alcohol abuse. Results of the study showed that individuals who reported an increase in risky sexual behavior had greater alcohol involvement, as demonstrated by an increased number of days drinking, a larger typical amount consumed on drinking days, and a greater number of binge drinking days (Smith and Brown, 1998). In other words, college students who engaged in higher levels of risky sexual behavior, tended to drink more on a normal basis. Alcohol is also purposefully used as a form of disinhibition to engage in sexual intercourse, according to some studies (Anderson and Mathieu, 1996). Of the 1,902 students that the study was based on, 33.2% of men and 17.4% of women reported that they had let themselves drink more than normal in order to make it easier to have sex with someone.
Another study shows that alcohol use can lead people to more easily engage in sexual behavior (George, 1990, www.drugs.indiana.edu/). In the study men watched erotic material while an unknown and unseen partner viewed it. The participants were served what they thought were alcoholic drinks, but in fact, no alcohol was served to them. The results showed that the participants spent more time viewing erotica when they thought the unseen partner had consumed alcohol. So the study not only showed that people were more likely to feel more at ease with sexual behavior themselves when drinking, but also when they thought their partner was drinking. All of these studies show that there appears to be a correlation between the amount of alcohol consumed and the likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behavior. As the amount of alcohol consumed rose, so did the sexual risk-taking. These studies also show that men are more likely to drink more and therefore take more sexual risks. However, no studies have been done on what the effects of location are on these variables. Is this behavior more likely to occur in a popular Spring Break destination such as New Orleans? Are men still more likely to engage in this risky behavior depending on the location? The effects of location and time of year has on whether or not students are more likely to consume illegal drugs has yet to be looked at as well. With the addition of this information we will better understand who must be the target audience for HIV transmission prevention, as well as the prevention of drug abuse.In the present study, it was hypothesized that those who are more likely to engage in risky behavior during Mardi Gras and Spring Break holidays are males who consume large amounts of alcohol and spend the break in New Orleans or other popular Spring Break locations.
The variables looked at were sex, amount of alcohol consumed, location during the holidays, and the amount of risky behavior engaged in.
METHOD MethodParticipantsThe participants consisted of 109 (42 male and 67 female) Loyola and Tulane University students. All participants were 18 years old or older. The researchers entered classrooms, informed the students on the subject of the study and accepted volunteers. Some students were given course credit from psychology professors for participating. Convenience sampling was used to gather participants.MaterialsConsent forms were passed out to the participants, which they kept. The participants did not sign and turn in these consent forms because it was essential to keep their identities anonymous. The participants were provided with a pen or pencil if they did not have one and were given a copy of the questionnaire made by the researchers. The questionnaire consisted of seven questions asking whether they were male or female, where they spent their Mardi Gras and Spring Break holidays, whether or not they consumed alcohol, illegal drugs, engaged in casual or unprotected sex, and if they had participated in any forms of violent behavior. A copy of the questionnaire is provided in Appendix A.Design and ProcedureThis study was a non-experimental correlational study. The variables were sex, the amount of alcohol consumed, location of the participant during the holidays, and the amount and type of
risky behavior engaged in. The participants were asked whether they were male or female and where they spent their Mardi Gras and Spring Breaks. To measure the amount of alcohol each participant drank, they were asked whether or not they consumed alcohol during the holidays and if so how much. The participants checked either, 1-2 drinks per day, 3-5 drinks per day, or 5 or more drinks per day. To measure the amount of risky behavior they engaged in, the participants were asked whether they consumed illegal drugs, engaged in casual and unprotected sex, and engaged in violent behavior such as fights. The participants were asked how many times they engaged in these forms of risky behavior and checked either 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 or more. Anonymity was ensured to the participants as a control against dishonest answers. The researchers entered psychology classrooms and briefly talked about what the experiment was about and asked for volunteers. They were told the questionnaire would take about 15 minutes or less to complete and that anyone who did not want to volunteer was excused from participating. The participants were given consent forms, which they read over and took with them. They did not sign them and return them to the researchers. Anonymity was critical to the study and was maintained by the researchers. The researchers believed that the insurance of anonymity would put the participants more at ease when it came to disclosing the personal information that the questions asked for. The participants were then given information, such as location and how to contact the on-campus counseling center. This was done as a precaution should the participants have felt depressed upon reflection of their Spring Break behavior and to better educate the participants about on-campus counseling resources. The participants then proceeded to fill out the questionnaire.
After all the participants were through, they were thanked and told they could find out information about the results of the study by contacting the number on the consent forms they were keeping. The researchers then debriefed the participants. They were told the researchers’ hypothesis: that males who consumed large amounts of alcohol and spent their breaks in New Orleans or other popular Spring Break locations, would be more likely to engage in risky behavior. They were told that the purpose of the study was to understand the causes of risky behavior, so we could educate students of measures that can be taken to prevent it from happening.
RESULTS Results A Pearson correlation addressed the relationship between alcohol (M = 2.3) and drugs consumed (M = .48) in males. It was found to be statistically significant, (r (39) = .40, p < .01), showing that these two variables are positively related. The researchers hypothesized that the variables would be affected in two ways: by location and by sex of subject. One-way Analysis of Variance tests were run examining how location and sex of subject affected alcohol use, consumption of illegal drugs, engagement in casual and unprotected sex, and violent behavior. When looking at how location affected these variables no significant differences were found except for unprotected sex. For males the averages were (M = .41, SD = 1.3), and for females the averages were (M = .36, SD = 1.2). A one-way ANOVA test showed significant differences (F(1,98) = 4.545, p < .036). When looking at how the variables were affected by the sex of the participants significant differences were found in the amount of alcohol consumed, the amount of drugs consumed, and
the amount of violent behavior engaged in. When looking at amount of alcohol consumed, for men the averages were (M = 2.3, SD = 1.1), the women’s averages were (M = 1.7, SD = 1.1). A one-way ANOVA test showed a significant difference (F(1,98) = 8.949, p < .004). When examining how men and women differed in consumption of drugs males (M = 1.8, SD = 2.3) significantly differed from women (M = .60, SD = 1.3), (F(1,98) = 11.965, p < .001). There was also a significant difference between men and women’s involvement in violent behavior. Men averaged (M = .30, SD = .60) more violent actions and women indicated no violent actions occurred (M = .00, SD = .00), (F(1,98) = 13.107, p < .000).
DISCUSSION Discussion The purpose of this study was to determine if there was a relationship between consumption of alcohol, where Mardi Gras and Spring Break were spent, and involvement in risky behavior. The results show that men consumed more alcohol and drugs on average than women. Men who reported to have consumed more alcohol per day also reported to having used illegal drugs more frequently. Not one woman reported to have engaged in any form of violent behavior and a small percentage of men had. These findings supported the researchers hypothesis. The results showed that students who left New Orleans reported a higher amount of engagement in unprotected sex than those who stayed in New Orleans. Why? It could be that couples going on vacation feel less inhibited and more comfortable being outside their normal setting. The result did not show that males would engage in risky sexual activity more than females as the researchers had hypothesized.This study follows up on previous ones by looking at college students’ behavior during Spring Break and the role that alcohol plays during this period. Like previous studies showed,
this study further supports that alcohol plays a key role in Spring Breakers behavior. It expanded on past research though, by asking questions on specific behaviors and the frequency of them in order to find averages among the sample studied. The findings that males reported more violent behavior when consuming large quantities of alcohol supports Mendelson and Mello’s 1985 research showing that men’s levels of testosterone are increased while consuming large amounts of alcohol. A weakness the study had is that there were not enough participants. A larger sample was needed to better represent the population of these college students. Along with a larger sample, the researchers could have attained a more equal number of men and women. In addition, even though confidentiality was guaranteed, people can have trouble being honest with others, and themselves, when it comes to sensitive subjects like the ones studied here. Even though the researchers attempted to assure that the participants’ answers would remain anonymous, they might still have had their doubts. The fact that they were personally handing in these questionnaires, (they were placing them in an envelope) may have held them back from being totally honest. Studies like this can be used to show students statistics which show that if they decide to consume large amount of alcohol, they are more likely to find themselves in some sort of risky situation than if they don’t. Statistics like these can be used as a form of “scare tactics” on students. Making students aware of statistics like these might deter them from carelessly consuming large amounts of alcohol and putting themselves in endangering circumstances. This study further supports the belief that alcohol plays a role in the endangerment of college students particularly at times like Mardi Gras and Spring Break. Unlike past research
however, this study did not support the claim that alcohol consumption will lead to risky sexual behavior. Although other studies show this to be true, the sample looked at here showed more of a tendency to consume illegal drugs when under the influence of alcohol. This only helps to further support the fact that alcohol consumption leads to risky behavior, not just risky sexual behavior. The study could have been improved by devising a way to ensure complete anonymity to participants and a way of attaining a larger sample. Perhaps a way of doing this would be by sending out the questionnaires through the school’s e-mail system. A consent form could be sent out with it, which the students could read before completing the questionnaires and sending them back to the researchers. A larger sample could be attained this way and anonymity would be completely guaranteed. This research could be expanded on by asking students these questions during a normal week of the school year to see if this type of behavior is not just seen during times of revelry like Mardi Gras and Spring Break. The findings of this research help to further support past research and ventured into previously uncharted areas of alcohol consumption. Information like this needs to be exposed to college students, especially males, so that they can be aware of what heavy drinking in a college atmosphere can lead to. These sorts of statistics can hopefully make students aware of the potential dangers that await them at the bottom of the bottle.
REFERENCES ReferencesAnderson, P.B., & Mathieu, D.A. (1996) College students’ high-risk sexual behavior following alcohol consumption. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 22, 259-264.Maticka, T.E., & Herold, E.S., (1997) The scripting of sexual behavior: Canadian university students on spring break in Florida. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 6, 317-328.Mendelson, J.H., & Mello, N.K., (1985) Alcohol: Use and Abuse in America. Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 182.Smith, C.D., & Brown, J.M., (1998) Sexual behaviors, extroversion, and alcohol use among college students. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 44, 70-79.http://www.drugs.indiana.edu/
APPENDIX A Appendix APlease answer the following questions:
1. Sex M F
2. Where did you spend the Mardi Gras and Spring Break Holidays?- New Orleans____- New Orleans and other location_____ -if so, where was the other location________________- At home___________ -if so, where is home_______________
3. Did you consume alcohol during the holidays? Yes No -if so, how much per day on average? 1-2 alcoholic beverages_____ 3-5 alcoholic beverages_____5 or more_____4. Did you consume illegal drugs? Yes No -if so, how many times 1___ 2___ 3___ 4___ 5 or more___
5. Did you engage in casual sex? (someone who isn’t your significant other)Yes No -if so, how many times 1___ 2___ 3___ 4___ 5 or more___
6. Did you engage in unprotected sex? Yes No -if so, how many times 1___ 2___ 3___ 4___ 5 or more___
7. Did you engage in any violent behavior? (i.e. fights) Yes No -if so, how many times 1___ 2___ 3___ 4___ 5 or more___