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In their own words: The meaning of drinking in the lives of college women

Sally A Linowski, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Research investigating women's alcohol use has been limited, and generally fails to consider the social context and environment pertaining to the experiences of women. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the perspectives of college women on the meaning of drinking in their lives, its role in fostering growth enhancing relationships, and the role of alcohol in their campus culture. The study used the Relational-Cultural Model of psychological development (Kaplan, 1994; Gleason, 1994; Miller & Stiver, 1997) as a conceptual framework to understand the binge drinking phenomenon. Participants were recruited from a large co-educational university and a women's college. Data collection methods included a focus group with 16 sorority leaders and individual interviews with an additional 19 college women between January and September 2003. Five domains of inquiry were explored during these interviews: (1) the role of drinking in forming and maintaining relationships, (2) the extent to which drinking is viewed as a learning experience, (3) feelings about oneself as related to drinking practices, (4) definitions of dangerous drinking practices among women, and (5) personal use and beliefs around alcohol consumption. The participants perceived many benefits from drinking, especially in terms of friendship and self-identity. Their experiences reflected drinking not only as a way to form and maintain relationships with others, but also revealed feelings of shame and guilt as a result of regretted actions and disconnection from self and others. This dissertation discusses five central themes that emerged from participants' stories related to their drinking behavior. Three themes were reflective of connection: bonding, care taking, and storytelling. The other two themes were indicative of disconnection from self, as exemplified by the good girl/bad girl duality concept, and drinking to cope with relational conflict. Implications for substance abuse prevention specialists, health educators, counselors, and college administrators are discussed.

Subject Area

Public health

Recommended Citation

Linowski, Sally A, "In their own words: The meaning of drinking in the lives of college women" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3136754.