Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Richard C. Gayle


Objective: Numerous studies trying to find the causes and implications of binge drinking on college campuses have focused their attention on the heavy drinkers. The purpose of this study was to understand why and how college students choose to abstain from drinking. The study also examined the experiences of the abstaining college students on a campus where 83% of the student body drinks. Methods: Twelve undergraduate students from the University of Richmond participated in this qualitative study. Individual interviews using open-ended questions were conducted to ascertain the reasons for their abstinence and their experiences as college students. After the interviews, the 12 students were assigned to focus groups to discuss and compare their experiences and to test emergent themes.Results: The three most often mentioned reasons for the decision to abstain were (a) they wanted to maintain control over their body and environment, (b) it is illegal to drink under age 21 and (c) they did not want to disappoint their parents. The students described needing strong personal convictions about the decision to abstain in order to stand up to social pressures to fit in. Most of the students (11) made the decision during their high school years. A supportive network of peers and high parental expectations helped solidify the decision to abstain throughout high school. The transition period into college and the development of a social network is the most difficult time to be an abstainer, since most social activities revolve around drinking. The meaning they gave to their experience on campus was that it is more difficult to develop a social network as an abstainer, but the relationships are deeper and more genuine than those developed over nights of drinking. Conclusions: The choice to abstain from drinking is often made during high school and maintained through social support. The transition into college and the lack of a social network is a tenuous period during which the decision to abstain is challenged. University administrators need to look into alternative ways in which new students can develop their social network where drinking is not the primary focus.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008

Included in

Education Commons