Title page for ETD etd-10072002-011211

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Cotner, Christopher Lindsey
Author's Email Address ccotner@longwood.edu
URN etd-10072002-011211
Title In Their Own Words: College Students Who Abstain From Drinking
Degree Master of Arts
Department Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Janosik, Steven M. Committee Chair
Redican, Kerry J. Committee Member
Turrentine, Cathryn G. Committee Member
  • Alcohol Abstinence
  • College Students
  • Social Norming
Date of Defense 2002-09-09
Availability unrestricted


Christopher L. Cotner

Dr. Steven M. Janosik, Chair

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies


The purpose of this study was to seek understanding of the contours of the lives of undergraduate college students who abstain from drinking alcohol. Specifically, I explored the motivations, behaviors, and outcomes related to their choice not to drink. For purposes of this study, I defined motivations as the reasons for students' abstention. In this study, I defined behaviors as: (a) techniques used to abstain, (b) social experiences, and (c) recreational experiences. Outcomes were defined as the positive and negative effects of the choice not to drink. I defined abstainers as students who have not consumed alcohol for at least one full year prior to the study, with exceptions for moderate consumption on rare religious or cultural celebrations.

I explored the following research questions in this study:

1. What are abstainers' motivations for abstaining?

2. What behaviors do abstainers exhibit to keep them from drinking?

3. What social behaviors do abstainers exhibit?

4. What are the outcomes of abstaining?

I had one sample consisting of 53 undergraduates who had not consumed any alcohol for a period of at least one year prior to the study. After conducting the focus groups, I searched the participant responses for emergent themes. Then, I used the emergent themes to guide the formation of a narrative. In this narrative, I combined the participants' own voices and my analysis of their themes to tell the story of being a college student who abstains from drinking alcohol.

As the motivations for abstention, the participants indicated spiritual, religious influences as important. Additionally, the friends and organizations with which they associated and previous negative experiences (both personal and external) made an impact. In the category of behavior related to abstaining, the participants indicated that their ability to abstain closely hinged upon their interaction with and perception of their social environment; their choices of association with friends and groups also influenced their perceptions of their ability to abstain. Participants who had a strong sense of personal conviction about abstaining felt they were better able not to drink. Additionally, many felt they could take direct personal action to help them abstain. In terms of their social environments, abstainers spoke of having created deep, rich friendships and social environments as part of their very busy lives. While they generally preferred to spend time with other abstainers, they often were friends with and spent time with both abstainers and drinkers. The participants also indicated the importance of making friends and associating with groups in feeling comfortable and being confident in their lifestyle choice. The participants spoke with mixed voices about the outcomes of abstention; many felt left out and out of place in the general college drinking environment, while at the same time recognizing the many positive benefits from not drinking.

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