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Wolfe ONLINE DRINKING: EXPLORATORY STUDY 61

Online Drinking: An Exploratory Study of


Alcohol Use and Intoxication during Internet
Activity
Wendy L. Wolfe
Armstrong Atlantic State University

Despite the commonplace use of the internet for socializing and


recreating, little is known about alcohol use during online activity. This
study investigates the prevalence of online drinking (drinking/
intoxication during internet use) in an American college student sample,
differences in internet use associated with online drinking, consequences
of online drinking, and the relationship between alcohol problems and
internet addiction. Because social anxiety has been found to increase risk
for both internet addiction and alcohol problems, this study also examines
the relationship between social anxiety and online drinking. Results
demonstrate that online drinking is commonplace, and tends to occur in
conjunction with entertainment/social networking-based internet
activities. For females, a significant positive correlation was found
between scores on problem drinking and internet addiction screening
measures. Online drinkers also had significantly higher internet addiction
scores. Given the apparent lack of a role for social anxiety in explaining
online drinking, other directions are proposed to advance this new area of
research within the alcohol/addictions field.

Skyping, gaming, friending, tweeting our society has embraced the


internet as an alternate, and sometimes preferable, social universe. This is
particularly true for young people. According to the Pew Research
Centers Internet and American Life Project (2010), 95% of 18 to 29
year-olds use the internet, more than any other age group. Among
internet users, teens and young adults are more likely than older adults to
use the internet for entertainment purposes, such as gaming, watching
videos, and downloading music; and for social purposes, such as using
social networking sites, blogs, and instant messaging (Pew Research
Center, 2009). While internet use has many beneficial aspects, it can also
be misused and overused, with internet scams and cyber bullying as
examples of the former and internet addiction an example of the latter.
Indeed, internet addiction is under review for inclusion in the DSM-V
and has been conceptualized as an impulse control disorder (similar to
compulsive gambling) involving symptoms such as preoccupation with
going online, spending increasing amounts of time online, having
difficulty cutting back on internet use, and continuing online activity in
the face of negative consequences (Young, 1996).
62 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY

Despite the conceptualization of excessive internet use as an


addiction, and the increasingly commonplace use of the internet as a
vehicle for socializing and recreating, the relationship between internet
activity (and addiction) and substance use has garnered little research
attention. In one of the few studies in this area, Ko et al. (2008) examined
the co-occurrence of problematic alcohol use and internet addiction
among high school students in Taiwan and found a significant positive
correlation between the two. Further, they found that those with both
problematic behaviors were more often males with co-occurring
problems in the areas of family conflict, family alcohol use, and deviant
behaviors among friends (Ko et al., 2008). Yen, Ko, Yen, Chen, and Chen
(2009) also investigated the relationship between problematic alcohol use
and internet addiction, but among college students in Taiwan. They also
found a significant positive correlation between the two problem areas,
and additionally found both to be positively correlated with depression.
In the only published investigation of internet and alcohol use using an
American sample, Epstein (2011) sought to examine the association
between occurrence of drinking (lifetime and past month) and computer
use (both time spent on the computer, and self-reported frequency of
engaging in various online activities) in a sample of 13-17 year-olds.
Participants who reported using alcohol in the past month reported
significantly more time spent on the internet engaging in non-academic
tasks than participants who denied using alcohol in the past month.
Moreover, participants reporting alcohol use at some point in their
lifetime reported significantly greater frequency of internet use for social
networking and for downloading and listening to music (past month use
was also associated with greater frequency of the latter) than participants
who denied ever having used alcohol (Epstein, 2011).
These studies suggest a relationship between drinking and internet
use, and (in the case of the studies conducted in Taiwan) an association
between problematic alcohol use and internet use. However, it is unclear
if the correlation between problematic alcohol use and internet addiction
would generalize to an American population. While the Epstein study
opens the door to investigating this connection in an American
population, the investigation focused on occurrence, duration, or
frequency of use and did not include measures of problematic use (of
either drinking or internet use). In addition, there remains no empirical
information about whether alcohol use is combined with online activity
and, if this is the case, what typifies online drinking. An article on the
Japan Trends website focuses on the rising popularity of online drinking
among young people through net nomikai in which individuals
socialize through webcams while drinking (Andrews, 2010). However,
the author notes that there is no research or data to support this boom.
Wolfe ONLINE DRINKING: EXPLORATORY STUDY 63

In addition to gleaning insight into similarities and differences between


online drinking and more traditional alcohol use behavior (e.g., drinking
during in-person social activities), the relevance of online drinking is
clear given the immediacy of online activity and the disinhibiting effect
of alcohol. For example, it is quite possible that problematic online
behaviors such as cyber bullying or sending/posting sexually explicit
photos are more likely when alcohol and internet use are combined.
Finally, given that social anxiety has been identified as a risk factor for
both internet addiction (e.g., Caplan, 2010; Chak & Leung, 2004; Kraut
et al., 1998) and problematic alcohol use (e.g., Crum & Pratt, 2001;
Kushner, Sher, & Beitman, 1990; Morris, Stewart, & Ham, 2005;
Thomas, Randall, & Carrigan, 2003), the question begs as to whether
individuals who combine internet activity (particularly activity that is
social in nature) with alcohol use are higher in social anxiety than those
who do not.
The current study sought to gather data to begin to better understand
the relationship between alcohol use and internet activity. The following
questions were addressed:
What percent of college student drinkers consume alcohol during
online activities, or use the internet while under the influence of alcohol
(hereafter combined and referred to as online drinking, unless discussed
separately)?
Are there online activities that are more likely to be engaged in while
drinking or under the influence of alcohol (e.g., interactive, social
activities such as instant messaging)? Relatedly, do online drinkers
demonstrate different internet use patterns in general, as compared to
alcohol users who do not engage in online drinking?
What consequences are encountered when people combine drinking
with internet use? The well-publicized case of a Morgan Stanley
commodities trader who made $10 million in risky online trades while
intoxicated (Hosking, 2009), suggests that the immediacy of online
activities can lead to unique consequences for those who use the internet
while under the disinhibiting effects of alcohol.
Given the association between social anxiety and problematic use of
both alcohol and the internet, are individuals who combine alcohol use
and internet activity more socially anxious than those who do not? It has
been found that socially anxious individuals use alcohol with the
expectation that drinking will reduce their anxiety in social situations
(Carrigan & Randall, 2003). Are socially anxious individuals more likely
to engage in interactive internet activities while drinking or under the
influence of alcohol, as compared to their general involvement in
interactive online activities?
64 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY

Can the relationship between problematic use of both alcohol and the
internet, as reported by Ko and colleagues, be replicated in an American
population?
Finally, given that sex differences have been found for both the
relationship between social anxiety and alcohol (e.g., Morris et al., 2005)
and between problematic alcohol use and internet addiction (Ko et al.,
2008), do males and females differ in terms of the above questions?

METHOD
Participants
Students (128 males, 169 females) at a regional state university in the
southeast United States participated in the IRB-approved study in
exchange for class credit, with an average age of 23.65 years (SD =
6.34). Caucasians (68%) and African-Americans (20%) comprised most
of the sample. The majority were undergraduates (95%) and were divided
equivalently (20-27%) across academic classifications and academic
fields of study. Fifty-seven percent of the participants could be
characterized as traditional college students (i.e., 17-22 years of age,
single, and without children), which is reflective of the university
enrollment as a whole (Armstrong Atlantic State University, 2010).
Participants reported internet use was typical, however, for a young adult
population in that 89% reported using the internet either daily or several
times daily, with an average of 13.18 (SD = 13.19) hours online per week
estimated by participants. The majority (81%) reported their favorite
location for internet use as their home. Participants reported that 60% of
their online time is spent engaged in leisure activities (email, social
networking, online research, listening to music, and general web surfing).
Because this investigation focused on online drinking, only current
drinkers were eligible to participate in the study. Drinking status was
verified by participant response to item 1 on the AUDIT (i.e., How often
do you have a drink containing alcohol?) and those few non-drinkers (n =
25) who erroneously volunteered for the study were excluded from data
analyses.

Measures and Procedure


After providing informed consent via an informed consent document
presented to participants at the outset of the survey, the following
measures were administered using the questionnaire administration
program, Survey Monkey:
Internet Use. A 6-item Internet Use Questionnaire was developed by
the author to assess the frequency and locations for internet use.
Participants were asked to report the locations in which they use the
internet (e.g., home, school/work, internet caf or other public location),
Wolfe ONLINE DRINKING: EXPLORATORY STUDY 65

their preferred location, their frequency of internet use, estimated hours


per week of internet use, and their estimated hours per week of
academic/work-related internet use versus leisure use. The Internet
Activities Questionnaire (IAQ) was also developed by the author to
assess self-reported likelihood of engaging in various activities while
online. The items were selected based a literature review of research on
internet use behavior. Participants used a Likert rating scale from 1 (very
unlikely) to 5 (very likely) to indicate how likely it would be that they
would engage in a variety of online activities (see Table 1 for the list of
internet activities included in both the IAQ and the AIAQ, described
below).

TABLE 1 Likelihood of Engaging in Various Internet Activities


During Online Drinking

Activity n M SD
Social networking sites 135 3.71 1.27
Watch/downloading video 149 3.48 1.31
Listen to/downloading music 151 3.38 1.44
General web surfing 151 3.21 1.38
Interactive chat 99 2.75 1.51
Reading/Responding to Email 148 2.59 1.45
Cybersex websites 82 2.51 1.39
Reading/Posting to Blogs 101 2.33 1.40
Gaming 72 2.13 1.15
Interactive Gaming 59 2.12 1.35
Shopping 116 2.05 1.28
Research 143 1.95 1.19
Interactive Cybersex 38 1.95 1.37
Dating Websites 38 1.84 1.24
Roleplay Gaming 46 1.78 1.26
Gambling 32 1.44 .91
Note. Only participants who reported using the internet while drinking or intoxicated are
reflected in the table. For each activity, ratings are only included for participants who
reported ever engaging in that particular online activity. Ratings were assigned using a 1
(Very Unlikely) to 5 (Very Likely) scale in response to the question, How likely are you to
engage in the following internet activities while drinking alcohol or while under the
influence of alcohol?.

Alcohol and Internet Use. Participants were asked two items to assess
if they had ever consumed alcohol while using the internet or had ever
used the internet while under the influence of alcohol. Those who
responded yes to at least one of the items went on to complete the
66 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY

Alcohol and Internet Activities Questionnaire (AIAQ) and the Alcohol


and Internet Consequences Questionnaire (AICQ), both developed by
the author. The AIAQ asked participants to rate the likelihood of
engaging in the same 16 online activities as in the IAQ, during online
drinking. By including the same activities on the IAQ and the AIAQ,
comparisons could be drawn between the likelihood of engaging in each
online activity when drinking or intoxicated, versus general likelihood of
engaging in the activity. On this measure, only participants who ever
engaged in that particular online activity were asked to rate their
likelihood of engaging in the activity while drinking or intoxicated, from
1 (very unlikely) to 5 (very likely). The AICQ was used to assess whether
participants had ever experienced 11 possible consequences related to
online drinking (see Table 2). Since research has not explored online
drinking consequences, items were selected based on a review of
measures of general alcohol use consequences (such as the Drinkers
Inventory of Consequences; Miller, Tonigan, & Longabaugh, 1995) and a
literature review of problematic internet-related behaviors. Participants
indicated yes or no to each item and total scores reflect the total
number of consequences reported by participants.

TABLE 2 Consequences of Combining Alcohol and Online Activity


%M
Consequence % %Reporting Yes ales % Females
Spent too much time online 61 54 67
Neglected something important 53 52 54
Found activity more enjoyable 51 61 42
Said/wrote something later regretted 44 44 44
Felt more comfortable being myself 41 46 36
Got into an argument 38 34 42
Felt less anxious when online 30 32 28
Did something I later regretted 29 27 31
Gave too much info about self 29 24 33
Spent too much money 23 24 22
Drank more than intended 14 18 11
Note. Above reflects percentage of online drinkers who reported the consequence has ever
occurred to them as a result of their use of the internet while drinking or intoxicated.

Internet Addiction Test. The IAT was developed by Young (1996, 1998)
based ononDSM-IV
DSM-IVcriteria for impulse
criteria controlcontrol
for impulse disordersdisorders
such as such as
compulsive gambling. Participants are asked how often they have
experienced 20 situations related to their internet use, capturing the effect
of internet use on their relationships, emotions, sleeping, and daily
activities, among others. Scores range from 20-100, with scores greater
than 40 indicating frequent problems and scores greater than 70
Wolfe ONLINE DRINKING: EXPLORATORY STUDY 67

indicating significant problems related to internet use. Factor analysis of


the IAT has yielded six subscales, with good internal consistency.
Concurrent validity has also been established (Widyanto & McMurran,
2004).
Alcohol Outcome Expectancy Scale. The AOES was administered to
assess the outcome expectancies that participants have for their alcohol
use. The measure was developed by Leigh and Stacy (1993) and asks
participants to rate the likelihood that 34 different outcomes would occur
to them if they were to consume alcohol. The outcomes include negative
outcome categories (negative social, emotional, physical, and
cognitive/performance effects), and positive outcome categories (social
facilitation, fun, sex, and tension reduction). The subscales and the
positive and negative dimensions have been found to have good internal
consistency (Leigh & Stacy, 1993). While both positive and negative
expectancies have been found to be associated with drinking behavior,
endorsement of stronger positive expectancies has been found to account
for greater variability in alcohol use (Leigh & Stacy, 1993). A particular
interest in this investigation was the expectation that alcohol will
facilitate social interaction and reduce tension.
Social Anxiety and Distress Scale. The SAD is a well-established
measure of anxiety in social situations. It consists of 28 true-false items
and yields a total score with excellent internal consistency and good one-
month test-retest reliability (Watson & Friend, 1969). There is no
established cut-off score (higher scores indicate greater social anxiety),
although past research has yielded mean scores and standard deviations
for college males and females.
Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. The AUDIT is an
established screening measure for alcohol problems and was developed
in collaboration with the World Health Organization to provide a gender
and culture-neutral screening measure for the early detection of alcohol
problems (Babor, Higgins-Biddle, Saunders, & Monteiro, 2001). It
contains ten items that assess both quantity and frequency of alcohol use,
as well as dependence symptoms and the occurrence of problems related
to alcohol use. The AUDIT yields a total score of up to 40, with a
criterion of 8 typically used to identify individuals with potential alcohol
problems.
Demographic Questionnaire. A questionnaire was used to gather
demographic information on participants, including their age, sex, race,
class standing, major program of study, marital status, and residence
status.
Preliminary Analyses
As research on alcohol use during online activity is a new area of
investigation, several questionnaires were developed by the author due to
68 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY

an absence of established measures of the constructs of interest.


Specifically, the IAQ assessed reported likelihood of engaging in a
variety of internet activities when online, the AIAQ assessed reported
likelihood of engaging in those same activities during online drinking,
and the AICQ assessed whether a variety of consequences had ever
occurred as a result of online drinking. Activities surveyed by the IAQ
and AIAQ are listed in Table 1 and consequences that were included in
the AICQ are listed in Table 2. The Cronbachs Alphas for the IAQ,
AIAQ, and AICQ are presented in Table 3, along with preliminary
validation in the form of correlations with other measures used in the

TABLE 3 Internal Consistency and Concurrent Validity of New


Measures
Correlation with
Measures Cronbachs Alpha Measures
Internet Use Questionnaire
Not
-online frequency IAT (r = .15*)
assessed
-weekly hrs online IAT (r = .30***)
IAQ .63 IAT (r = .42***)
AIAQ .66 AUDIT (r = .26***),
IAT (r = .31***)
AICQ .77 AUDIT (r = .34***),
IAT (r = .41***)
Note: Other than Internet Use Questionnaire, analyses above were based on total scores for
the measures. * p < .05, *** p < .001. IAQ = Internet Activities Questionnaire, AIAQ =
Alcohol and Internet Activities Questionnaire, AICQ = Alcohol and Internet Consequences
Questionnaire, IAT = Internet Addiction Test, AUDIT = Alcohol Use Disorders
Identification Test.

study that were expected to yield associations with the constructs of


interest. As can be seen in the Table, internal reliability is marginally
acceptable for the IAQ and AIAQ, but good for the AICQ. However, with
regard to the IAQ and AIAQ, it has been noted that internal consistency
in the .6 to .7 range is acceptable for exploratory studies (Garson, 2011),
which accurately describes the nature of this investigation. Total scores
for the IAQ and AIAQ were not a focus of this investigation and were not
used in the principal analyses. However, IAQ and AIAQ total scores
were examined relative to other potentially related measures for the
purpose of exploring construct validity. Expected correlations between
the newly developed measures and more established measures of related
constructs were found, providing preliminary support for their validity.
For example, greater likelihood of engaging in a variety of online
activities on the IAQ was significantly positively associated with scores
on the IAT, whereas greater likelihood of engaging in various online
activities while drinking and reports of greater consequences of online
Wolfe ONLINE DRINKING: EXPLORATORY STUDY 69

drinking were significantly positively associated with both IAT scores


and AUDIT scores.
In order to verify the internal consistency of more established
measures used in the primary analyses, Cronbachs Alphas for these
measures and subscales (e.g., tension reduction scale of the AOES) were
also computed. Internal consistency was high in all cases, ranging from .
79 for the AUDIT to .93 for the SAD.

Primary Analyses
What percent of college student drinkers consume alcohol during
online activities, or use the internet while under the influence of alcohol?
Forty percent of participants (47% males, 36% females) reported using
alcohol while engaged in online activity and 52% (59% males; 47%
females) reported going online while under the influence of alcohol.
Perhaps not surprisingly, online drinkers had significantly higher AUDIT
scores (M = 9.27, SD = 5.21) than online abstainers (M = 4.93, SD =
4.08), [t(295) = -7.87, p < .01].
Are there online activities that are more likely to be engaged in while
drinking or under the influence of alcohol? As shown in Table 1, the
online activities most often engaged in when participants use alcohol are
social or entertainment-based. Independent samples t-tests comparing
males and females indicated that males were significantly more likely to
go online to watch or download music or videos, use regular or
interactive cybersex sites, or play interactive games during online
drinking, whereas females were significantly more likely to use social
networking sites (all ps < .01). These sex differences were similar to
those evidenced by participants when asked about their general (non-
alcohol related) online activities.
Do online drinkers demonstrate different internet use patterns in
general, as compared to alcohol users who do not engage in online
drinking? With regard to general online activities, individuals who
engage in online drinking were found to be significantly more likely than
alcohol users who abstain from online drinking to spend more time
online and more time engaged in online leisure activities (see Table 4).
As can be seen in the Table, they were also significantly more likely to
report spending their online time engaged in general web surfing and
entertainment-oriented activities, including shopping and visiting
cybersex sites.
Are there unique consequences associated with mixing alcohol and
internet use? Participants acknowledged experiencing a range of
consequences as a result of online drinking. As shown in Table 2, the
most common consequence was spending too much time online and
neglecting other tasks. However, approximately 30-40% of participants
70 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY

indicated that they said, wrote, or did something they later regretted; got
into an argument; felt more comfortable/less anxious during the online
activity; and gave out too much information about themselves as a result
of their alcohol use.

TABLE 4 Differences in General Reported Internet Use Between


Online Drinkers and Online Abstainers
Drinkers: Abstainers:
Internet Use/Activity M (SD) M (SD) T-test
Weekly hours online 15.68 (15.73) 10.17 (8.4) t(295)=-3.66**
Weekly hours online leisure 9.72 (13.25) 5.57 (5.82) t(295)=-3.38**
Weekly hours online non- 5.96 (6.03) 5.1 (5.89) t(295)= -1.24
leisure
Reading/Responding to Email 3.8 (1.23) 3.7 (1.26) t(294)= -.67
Reading/Posting to Blogs 2.22 (1.35) 1.96 (1.27) t(294)= -1.70
Interactive chat 2.07 (1.42) 1.74 (1.17) t(293)= -2.14*
Social networking 3.56 (1.5) 3.65 (1.53) t(293)= .27
Gambling 1.13 (.45) 1.11 (.49) t(293)= -.34
Shopping 2.49 (1.2) 2.2 (1.08) t(293)= -2.16*
Gaming 1.8 (1.14) 1.67 (1.05) t(294)= -1.02
Interactive Gaming 1.54 (1.07) 1.45 (.98) t(295)= -.76
Roleplay Gaming 1.34 (.9) 1.24 (.72) t(291)= -.98
Cybersex 1.79 (1.13) 1.5 (.92) t(292)= -2.32*
Interactive Cybersex 1.17 (.54) 1.15 (.6) t(292)= -.29
Dating websites 1.21 (.6) 1.19 (.73) t(291)= -.31
Watching or downloading 3.27 (1.24) 2.65 (1.37) t(292)=-4.02**
video
Listening to or downloading 3.6 (1.29) 3.28 (1.35) t(294)= -2.05*
music
Research 3.7 (1.07) 3.88 (1.02) t(292)= 1.42
General web surfing 3.82 (1.07) 3.49 (1.19) t(294)= -2.55*
Note. *p < .05, **p < .01. Participants who reported using the internet when drinking or
when under the influence of alcohol comprise the Drinkers group above. Comparing
these two groups separately to alcohol users who denied online drinking yielded similar
findings as above, with additional significant group differences for participants who
reported drinking while online (compared to online abstainers), who were more likely to
post to or read discussion boards/blogs (p<.05) and to engage in roleplay gaming (p<.05),
but less likely to spend time doing online research (p<.01).

Can the relationship between problematic use of both alcohol and the
internet, as reported by Ko and colleagues, be replicated in an American
population? Using the recommended IAT criterion score of 40, 20% of
our sample evidenced a problematic pattern of internet use (23% males,
17% females). Using the recommended AUDIT criterion score of 8, 40%
of our sample responded to the measure in such a way as to indicate
potential problems with alcohol use (53% males, 31% females). A
significant positive correlation was found between IAT and AUDIT
Wolfe ONLINE DRINKING: EXPLORATORY STUDY 71

scores (r = .22, p < .001). However, when computed for males and
females separately, it was discovered that the relationship was only
present for female participants (males: r = .09, p = .31; females: r = .29,
p < .001). Finally, participants who reported consuming alcohol during
online activity (M = 30.98, SD = 14.3) had significantly higher IAT
scores than participants who denied drinking during online activity (M =
27.71, SD = 11.89), [t(292) = 2.13, p < .05]. Similarly, participants who
reported going online when under the influence of alcohol (M = 30.95,
SD = 13.9) had significantly higher IAT scores than participants who
denied online intoxication (M = 26.94, SD = 11.63), [t(292) = 2.68, p < .
01]. This pattern was similar for male and female participants.
Are individuals who combine alcohol use and internet activity more
socially anxious than those who do not? The mean score for participants
on the SAD was 8.07 (SD = 7.04), which is similar to the scores (M =
9.1, SD = 8) for university students reported by the measure developers
(Watson & Friend, 1969). As expected, SAD scores were significantly
positively correlated with IAT scores (r = .284, p < .001) for participants
as a whole, and when examining scores separately for males (r = .342, p
< .001 ) and females (r = .253, p = .001). Contrary to expectations, there
was no correlation between AUDIT and SAD scores (r = .037, p > .05).
T-tests revealed that participants who reported using the internet while
drinking [t(295) = -.169, p > .05] or intoxicated [t(295) = .01, p > .05]
reported similar social anxiety and avoidance levels on the SAD as
compared to participants who denied such involvement.
Are socially anxious individuals more likely to engage in particular
internet activities (e.g., interactive activities) while drinking or under the
influence of alcohol? Correlation analyses were run to determine if SAD
scores were associated with a greater likelihood of drinking during
particular types of online activities as reported on the AIAQ. Results
indicated that SAD scores were not significantly associated with
likelihood of involvement in most types of online activities while
drinking. An exception was reported likelihood of online gambling while
drinking, which was significantly positively associated with SAD scores
(r = .316, p < .05) for participants as a whole, and drinking during role
play gaming, which was significantly positively associated with SAD
scores for female participants (r = .392, p < .05). Finally, hierarchical
linear regression was used to examine whether social anxiety and
avoidance, alcohol outcome expectancies, or the interaction between
these variables, might predict likelihood of engaging in various online
activities while drinking. Because males and females differed in their
reported likelihood of engaging in many online activities (in general, and
while drinking), participant sex was first entered in the regression model.
In a second step, SAD, AOEQ tension reduction, and AOEQ social
72 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY

facilitation scores were entered in a stepwise (forward) manner, along


with interaction terms combining SAD x AOEQ tension reduction scores
and SAD x AOEQ social facilitation scores. Results indicated that social
anxiety, alcohol outcome expectancies, and their combination failed to
predict reported likelihood of engaging in the various online activities
when drinking. Please report results of your stepwise here.
DISCUSSION
Just over half of current drinkers (55%), acknowledged either using
the internet while drinking or going online while under the influence of
alcohol. Thus, combining drinking and online activity is a commonplace,
though not universal, phenomenon among the college students in our
sample. Participants reported they were most likely to drink while using
the internet for entertainment or social purposes. In this way, the online
world appears to mirror the offline world in terms of the settings (e.g.,
social networking sites) and activities in which alcohol use is most
common. However, consequences can still arise in these situations. Over
half of participants reported their alcohol use led them to spend too much
time online and to neglect something important as a result. Over a third
of participants acknowledged saying (posting) something they later
regretted or getting into an argument as a result of combining alcohol and
online activity, while a third of females reported giving out too much
information about themselves due to online drinking. Because many
people go online when they are alone (and unmonitored), and since
online behaviors can occur so quickly (e.g., spending money with a few
key strokes or clicks of the mouse), the disinhibiting effects of alcohol
can be particularly problematic when combined with online activity.
Indeed, participants who reported online drinking had significantly
higher IAT scores than their sober web surfing peers. Given the
correlational nature of this study, the direction of the relationship
between online drinking and problematic (e.g., compulsive, excessive)
internet use is unclear. It is possible that online drinking leads to
increased risk for the development of problematic internet behaviors,
such as spending too much time and neglecting other activities when
online. Individuals with problems related to their internet use may also be
more inclined to drink during online activity, as a means of assuaging
feelings of guilt or as a way of heightening pleasure from the activity.
The top three most frequently identified consequences of online drinking
by participants (spending too much time online, neglecting something
important, and enjoying the online activity more) are consistent with both
possibilities. Further research is needed to better understand the nature of
the relationship found here between online drinking and internet
addiction.
Wolfe ONLINE DRINKING: EXPLORATORY STUDY 73

Online drinkers also reported different general internet use patterns


than online abstainers. They reported spending more time online,
particularly engaged in leisure activities such as those that could be
considered escapist in nature (listening to music and videos, shopping,
general web surfing, and visiting cybersex sites). While an acquiescence
response bias could account for this difference, the lack of a relationship
between online drinking and social anxiety, as well as lower reported
likelihood of engaging in some forms of online activity (e.g., online
research) are not consistent with this interpretation. A third variable, such
as depression or sensation seeking, could account for the greater
likelihood of some drinkers using the internet more often, and for
particular means, even when not combining alcohol and internet use.
While online drinking was associated with increased internet
addiction scores for both males and females in our sample, the
association between problematic alcohol use and internet addiction that
has been identified by others (Ko et al., 2008; Yen et al., 2009) was only
found for female participants in this study. When a sex difference has
been found in Asian samples, it has supported a stronger association
between alcohol and internet addiction for males. Ko et al. found that co-
occurring alcohol problems and internet addiction were associated with
other variables that suggested a pattern of family disruption and conduct
problems. It may be that in an American college population, the risk
pattern is different. Although social anxiety did not appear to play a
significant role in online drinking in this study, other variables (e.g.,
depression) that may be relevant for understanding the relationship
between alcohol use and internet addiction were not assessed. American
college student females may be using both alcohol and internet activity to
help cope with aversive emotions, to a point that both become excessive
or problematic. Further research is needed to explore mechanisms
underlying the development of problematic patterns of alcohol use and
internet use for female college students.
Interestingly, although social anxiety was associated with internet
addiction in this study, it added little to understanding online drinking. It
could be that, unlike face-to-face interactions, online communication
provides enough of a buffer for those with social anxiety that drinking
during online activity is not needed. Future research might test this
directly by using an experimental design in which participants high
versus low in social anxiety are asked to consume alcohol during a taste
rating task prior to engaging in either in vivo or internet-based social
interactions. Future research might also ask participants to monitor their
alcohol use during online activities in order to address a relative
limitation of this research design, which is a reliance on participants
retrospective reports on their online drinking behavior and an absence of
74 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY

information about the amount of alcohol consumed during online


drinking.
Another limitation of this study is that the participant sample may not
represent American college students more generally. However, national
data suggest that our sample is in line with changes in college enrollment
and that our participants reflect in many ways this changing face of
todays college student (e.g., older, more likely to have children;
Kennedy & Ishler, 2008). Despite these limitations, this study advances
the alcohol literature by examining online drinking rates, behaviors, and
consequences, along with the association between alcohol and internet
use problems. As internet activity becomes increasingly integrated in our
lives, it is important to understand how other behaviors, such as drinking,
are manifested in, alter, or are altered by our online existence. While
correlational and exploratory in nature, this investigation presents initial
descriptive information about drinking and online activity, and reveals
some associations that can be further explored by longitudinal and
experimental research in this area.

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76 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Forrest Files and Shrinidhi Subramaniam for


assistance with measure development and data collection. Thank you to Vann
Scott and Bradley Sturz for providing feedback and editing assistance with this
manuscript.