The role of alcohol perceptions as mediators between personality and alcohol-related outcomes among incoming college student drinkers
After high school, college students escalate their drinking at a faster rate than their noncollege-attending peers, and alcohol use in high school is one of the strongest predictors of alcohol use in college. Therefore, an improved understanding of the role of predictors of alcohol use during the critical developmental period when individuals transition to college has direct clinical implications to reduce alcohol-related harms. We used path analysis in the present study to examine the predictive effects of personality (e.g., impulsivity, sensation seeking, hopelessness, and anxiety sensitivity) and three measures of alcohol perception: descriptive norms, injunctive norms, and perceptions regarding the perceived role of drinking in college on alcohol-related outcomes. Participants were 490 incoming freshmen college students. Results indicated that descriptive norms, injunctive norms, and the role of drinking largely mediated the effects of personality on alcohol outcomes. In contrast, both impulsivity and hopelessness exhibited direct effects on alcohol-related problems. The perceived role of drinking was a particularly robust predictor of outcomes and mediator of the effects of personality traits, including sensation seeking and impulsivity on alcohol outcomes. The intertwined relationships observed in this study between personality factors, descriptive norms, injunctive norms, and the role of drinking highlight the importance of investigating these predictors simultaneously. Findings support the implementation of interventions that target these specific perceptions about the role of drinking in college.