The relationship between social anxiety and alcohol consumption in college students: Scale development, construct validation, and testing of a social cognitive model


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Virginia Tech


Heavy drinking has been consistently associated with negative legal, academic, and health problems in college students and recent studies suggest that the frequency of undergraduates experiencing alcohol related problems may be increasing. Research aimed at lowering rates of consumption has begun to focus on individual differences in motivations for heavy alcohol use. The following study used a social-cognitive based model to prospectively examine heavy drinking among socially anxious college students. It was hypothesized that alcohol expectancies of social facilitation/anxiety reduction and self-efficacy for avoiding heavy drinking in socially anxious situations would be predictive of drinking in socially anxious college students.

Using group testing and individual interview formats questionnaires assessing alcohol expectancies of improved sociability and self-efficacy were developed and shown to have adequate levels of reliability and construct validity. These questionnaires, along with measures of dispositional social anxiety, and a quantity-frequency index of alcohol use were then administered to 372 undergraduates. Seventy-one participants, identified as dispositionally socially anxious, were followed-up six-weeks later and completed both a time-line-follow-back assessment of their alcohol use over the six week interval and a semi-structured interview that assessed the types of situations in which they drank.

Results of the study provided partial support for the hypothesized model as the expectancy X efficacy interaction accounted for a significant percentage of the variance in the quantity and frequency of alcohol use after controlling for the main effects of alcohol expectancies and self-efficacy. At the six-week follow-up however, the expectancy X efficacy interaction failed to account for significant variance beyond that accounted for by the expectancy and efficacy effects. Further examination of the follow-up data did provide partial support for the model, as it was found that the main effects of expectancy and efficacy were significant predictors of drinking behavior, but only in situations that were likely to elicit feelings of social anxiety. Results are discussed in terms of the relationship between social anxiety, outcome expectancies and self-efficacy and implications for developing alcohol intervention programs with high-risk college student drinkers.



Social Anxiety, Drinking, College Students, Social-Cognitive Theory