While college-aged men consume more alcohol, report more heavy-drinking days, and report more problems consequent to their alcohol consumption than college-aged women (Sher & Rutledge, 2007
; Geisner, Larimer, & Neighbors, 2004
), little is known about the gender-specific factors that may contribute to higher alcohol consumption and related problems among the male population. This study highlights how distinct masculine norms are strongly associated to drinking to intoxication and alcohol-related problems, even after controlling for well-established risk factors, such as fraternity membership and perceived drinking norms.
As expected, fraternity involvement increased both the likelihood of drinking to intoxication and reporting more problems associated with alcohol consumption. Specifically, fraternity status was the most robust predictor in our drinking-to-intoxication and related-problems models. Our findings are consistent with prior studies documenting that fraternity status increases risk of drinking to intoxication, as alcohol is often used as “social lubrication” at many fraternity events (Borsari, Murphy & Barnett, 2007
; Cashin et al., 1998
). In addition, the Greek environment often fosters problematic drinking behaviors by contributing to a shared belief that heavy drinking is normative (Borsari & Carey, 1999
Consistent with prior research, men who reported higher perceived peer norms were more likely to report drinking to intoxication but did not report more alcohol-related consequences (Wood, Nagoshi, & Dennis, 1992
; Wood, Read, Palfai, & Stevenson, 2001
). Similarly, studies have found the link between perceived norms and increased alcohol consumption but not with alcohol-related problems (Capone et al., 2007
; Borsari & Carey, 2001
). The convergence of such past research with our current findings supports the possibility of a different pathway whereby perceived peer norms indirectly increase the risk of alcohol-related problems. Specifically, perceived peer norms could predispose individuals to drink more, which in turn increase their vulnerability to problems (Borsari & Carey, 2001
). These findings suggest that perceived norms need to be acknowledged when designing harm-reduction interventions to reduce alcohol consumption and to minimize harm that is related to alcohol consumption in college settings.
The unique and significant contribution of this study is the elucidation of the distinct relationship between masculine norms, problematic drinking, and related consequences. Consistent with masculine norms theory, distinct masculine norms such as being a “playboy”, risk-taking and winning were risk factors for drinking to intoxication, while risk-taking, being a “playboy,” and self-reliance also increased risk for alcohol-related problems. Consequently, it appears that men who have the desire to have multiple sexual partners (i.e., playboy), like to take risks, and are driven to win have a higher likelihood of engaging in problematic drinking. According to masculine norms theory (Levant, 1996
), men may be striving to conform to traditionally perceived masculine norms in order to establish or demonstrate their manhood. In other words, in addition to being a “playboy” and taking risks, our study suggests that heavy drinking may also be perceived as a typically “masculine” behavior. Therefore, men who adhere to masculine norms are more likely to drink to intoxication and to experience alcohol-related problems.
The association between self-reliance and increased risk for alcohol-related problems is a surprising and interesting finding. While self-reliance or the proclivity towards independence may be a positive attribute in many cases, it may be that those who value self-reliance in the context of alcohol-related consequences, may be less likely to seek early intervention for their heavy drinking because it is believed that he/she can take care of the problem on their own. Therefore, self-reliance may be associated with greater alcohol-related consequences because help is not sought as problems accrue or as the severity of drinking worsens. Further research is needed to examine the associations between self-reliance, heavy-drinking behaviors, and alcohol-related consequences.
While some masculine norms may increase the risk of problematic drinking, others, such as primacy of work and heterosexual presentation (HP), appear to decrease the risk of drinking to intoxication. Primacy of work as a protective buffer makes theoretical sense given this factor is reflective of an individual’s high priority towards work (Mahalik et al., 2003
). Men oriented towards high primacy of work may be less likely to engage in heavy drinking because drinking to get drunk might jeopardize their work or academic performance. In contrast, the relationship between heterosexual presentation and alcohol outcomes is not as clear. We found that those who endorsed HP were less likely to report drinking to intoxication and alcohol-related problems. Men with higher HP orientation may be concerned with managing how others perceive them: viz, their social appearance. In other words, higher HP norms may be protective, as the desire to present oneself as responsible or stable may discourage drinking-to-intoxication behavior. Future studies are warranted to clarify this finding.
Our research findings have important prevention, clinical and public-health implications. They suggest that including a masculine norms measure in screening and treatment planning would help to identify young men who are likely to engage in problem drinking (Iwamoto, 2010
). Doing so would facilitate the identification of men who may be at greater risk for drinking to intoxication and for developing alcohol-related problems. Many college counseling centers include alcohol screening in their outreach programs followed by counseling treatment (Larimer & Cronce, 2002
). Possible interventions could include increasing awareness around masculine norms and how they can predispose heavier drinking and related negative consequences.
The results of the present study should be considered in light of several important limitations. First, the current study utilized a cross-sectional design that limits the examination of possible casual relationships between masculinity norms and intoxication. Future studies utilizing longitudinal designs should investigate the role of masculine norms on drinking trajectories. It should also be noted that the data set was collected at one university and is thus not representative of all undergraduate males in the United States. Future investigations could also examine (1) the relation between masculine "risktaking" and garden-variety "impulsivity"; (2) higher base rates of drinking in homosexuals (see Talley, Sher & Littlefield, 2010
: "Sexual orientation and substance use trajectories in emerging adulthood"); (3) the clear danger of being a "playboy," and its association to fraternity membership; (4) whether and how these "masculine norms" correspond to/interact with injunctive norms for being a college student; (5) cultural factors, and generalizability of this largely Asian-American sample to other racial/ethnic groups, and (6) what exactly "primacy of work" looks like or means in college males as opposed to others in the job force.
Despite these limitations, this study has considerable strengths and contributes to the literature. It is the first study to our knowledge to examine the relationship between multidimensional measures of masculine norms and drinking to intoxication and alcohol-related problems using a large sample of ethnically diverse men. Study findings demonstrated the complex nature of masculine norms on problem drinking and problems associated with excessive drinking. The findings have important implications for understanding individual differences among men and underscore the salience of masculine norms on problematic drinking.
- Conforming to masculine norms or the beliefs, expectations of what it means to be a man, may help explain patterns of problematic drinking among men.
- Fraternity status and higher perceived peer norms in drinking were positively associated with drinking to intoxication; fraternity status was also related to alcohol-related consequences.
- Masculine norms: playboy, risk-taking and winning were risk factors of drinking to intoxication, while playboy, risk taking and self-reliance increased the risks of alcohol-related problems.
- Masculine norms primacy of work and heterosexual presentation were protective factors of drinking to intoxication.