Background: Drinking and smoking commonly co-occur in undergraduate students. Although an identity as a drinker is a known predictor of alcohol use and alcohol problems, and early evidence suggests that it also predicts smoking, the role of these behaviors in the development of an identity as a drinker is unknown. In this study, the authors conceptualized a drinker identity as an enduring memory structure referred to as a self-schema and conducted a preliminary investigation of the relationships between early drinking experiences, drinker self-schema, and alcohol and tobacco use in undergraduate students. Methods: Three-hundred thirty undergraduates who reported current alcohol and tobacco use were recruited for an online survey study. Frequency of alcohol and tobacco use in the past 30 days, drinker self-schema, and early experiences with alcohol were measured. Results: Structural equation modeling showed that parental alcohol problems were associated with early onset of drinking. Early onset of drinking and high school friends' drinking were associated with more alcohol use and alcohol-related problems in high school. Alcohol problems during high school were associated with high drinker self-schema scores, which were associated with high frequency of alcohol and tobacco use during college. The indirect effects through the drinker self-schema were significant. Conclusions: Although cross-sectional, this preliminary examination supports theoretical predictions that early alcohol experiences may contribute to development of the drinker self-schema, which, as expected, was positively associated with alcohol and tobacco use in college. Longitudinal studies that track the unfolding of drinking behavior and the contextual factors that are associated with it in the development of the drinker self-schema are essential to confirming the theoretical model. If supported, implications for intervention at different developmental stages to prevent early onset of drinking, limit adolescent alcohol use, and modify the development of a drinker self-schema may mitigate undergraduate drinking and smoking.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes