Female Freshman & Drinking Patterns

Female Freshman & Drinking Patterns

by Jacinta Kreiner

Young highschoolers reach the last year and then find themselves packing up and moving to a completely new environment away from their families, many for the very first time. These young adults enter the college scene which, to no surprise, commonly includes rising rates of drinking and alcohol consumption. While this is not good news, this would make sense; college is a stressful experience, and everyone knows that coping with stress and trying to have fun with friends leads directly to increased drinking……but does it?

Courage Vs. Coping

According to a recent study in 2017 published by the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, females immediately showed increased drinking rates upon living on their college campus. Furthermore, they reported different reasons for drinking. In the study they sent out a survey to the students a month before they moved on campus which asked a series of questions asking them to rate different options as positive reasons for drinking and then the same survey was sent out to the same women within the first few weeks of starting school. Immediately after living on campus, young females started to rate “drinking makes me feel more courageous” higher as a positive reason for drinking than they had when they first took the survey only a month before. Reasons like “having fun with friends” and “coping with stress” which were rated higher before college, were hardly rated at all after they started college. The ten independent variables show that in this case alcohol is commonly used as a temporary fix, something to offer immediate gratification and relief rather than a long-term solution.

Part of what makes this data confusing is that binge drinking (defined as 4 or more drinks in a row) among young females is higher than ever before, but it’s not the binge drinking rates that go up for females upon starting college. Binge drinking rates remain constant throughout the transition from high school to the college scene. In fact, female drinking rates are higher than men’s drinking rates which is atypical because less alcohol affects women quicker and produces damage faster with heavy drinking. The fact that overall drinking rates go up, but stereotypical binge drinking doesn’t leaves us wondering if the drinking problems are rooted in issues that precede college. If binge drinking rates are already higher before students enter college, what is the significance of overall increased drinking rates, if any?

Why Courage? 

Why are friends and coping less of an influence on the choice to drink and the need to feel courageous higher than ever before? According to most traditional research and studies, coping is pinned as the main source of drinking, but this study challenges this connection with its differing results.

 Research shows that less than half of public schools are implementing drug prevention programs and curricula that is evidenced based. Even the programs that are in place seem to be adjusted to reach men more effectively. This lack of proper drug education for females throughout the system is thought to perhaps be a supporting reason for why drinking rates for men are lowering while women’s are not. While this makes sense for increased rates of binge drinking, it does not explain the perceived need for courage that women face when they go to college.

Theories on the Need to Find Courage 

An idea which explores the “lack” of courage is presented by Psychologist Emily Hancock. Hancock talks about how each woman is innately gifted with a young, courageous, adventurous, and playful spirit that usually gets hidden over the years by the need to “blend in” and in the attempt to be the “perfect girl” society calls for. By burying this part of themselves, developing women find it harder and harder to express their thoughts and emotions clearly and unabashedly. In other words, they start to lose courage.

Roger has a theory of “ordinary courage” which is built upon Alfred Adler’s theory of individual psychology (1956). Adler was an Austrian Psychotherapist who had many theories on the feeling of inferiority and its impact on development. The basis of Adler’s theory claims that the foundation for loss of courage is discouragement. Discouragement is trained in children from either growing up in an overly strict family where they were always “beaten down” or can result when children are raised in overly indulgent homes where they never get the chance to develop courage. Discouragement leads to a pattern of fear wherein children grow into adults who are constantly afraid to face challenges and problems because they do not believe they have the capacity to solve them on their own.

According to the results of this study, it seems that increased drinking for female freshman is not the result of coping with stress or wanting to have fun, but rather is an attempt to gain for a moment the courage they don’t believe they can have on their own.

How to Prepare and Prevent 

Research suggests that support from mothers is one of the most important factors during their transition from high school to college. However, it is important to keep in mind as a parent that it can be very damaging to keep “protecting” your child from decision making and problem solving, especially as they are going into college. Not giving them the proper space and independence to struggle a little on their own will leave them grossly underprepared for the challenges and transitions that life will inevitably bring them. It will also lead to an inability to properly connect with other peers and leave them with damaged self-efficacy. Helping your highschooler to build courage and problem solve on their own will help to buffer the transition to college and will thus make an increase in drinking patterns less likely to occur.


It is important to keep into perspective that these are the results of a singular study. Statistics can only influence our daily lives as much as we decide to learn from them. Paying attention to these results can keep us more attuned to the needs and struggles of those around us. The importance of this particular study is that it reveals a hidden need for young women to feel courageous. This newfound knowledge can just be another statistic, or it can be an influential part of the way we see and act towards others. What are some ways you can support the growth of courage in the women in your life?

Jacinta Kreiner is a G3 Contributing Writer


Gibson, S., & Vassalotti, L. (2017). Liquid Courage: The Role of Alcohol in Women’s Transition to College. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 61(2), 62–89. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48511433