Underestimating alcohol use on spring break

Some events are known for drinking: New Year’s eve, 21st birthday celebrations, spring break, to name a few. Such occasions are magnets for high levels of alcohol use and increased risk of harmful consequences.


Very few studies explore intended alcohol use on special events. A recent study by YSI researcher Megan Patrick and colleague at other institutions explores whether college students underestimate what they’ll drink on spring break and what characteristics and circumstances may make this more likely. Underestimating and being unprepared for heavy drinking may increase risk of harm. A study on 21st birthday drinking intentions found that over two thirds (68%) of college students drank more than planned; a related study found that almost one third (30%) had 5 or more drinks over their intended drinking.


The present study finds that 29%, or just under a third, of undergraduate spring breakers underestimated how much they would actually drink. The study also links underestimating to having more negative consequences related to drinking.


What factors make underestimating spring break drinking more likely?

-Being male

-Being a member of a sorority or a fraternity

-Having had more alcohol-related consequences in the past

-Intending to drink less during spring break

-Friends encouraging you to get drunk

-Going on a spring break trip with friends

-Receiving drinks from others


The findings are based on the responses of 603 undergraduate college students from a large public university in the Pacific Northwest who participated in a web-based study in 2010 and 2011. Participants reported as 57% women and 7% multi-ethnic, 2% black/African-American, 19% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 57% white. The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health.


Lee, C. M., Patrick, M. E., Geisner, I. M., Mastroleo, N. R., Mittmann, A., & Zimmerman, L. (2017). Individual, interpersonal, and contextual factors associated with discrepancies between intended and actual Spring Break drinking. Addictive Behaviors, 69, 42-47.