A Qualitative Examination of Contextual Influences on Negative Alcohol Consequence Evaluations Among Young Adult Drinkers

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Alcohol misuse and associated negative consequences experienced by college students persists as a public health concern. Quantitative studies demonstrate variability in subjective evaluations of consequences, and how positively or negatively consequences are evaluated is associated with drinking behavior. Lacking is a qualitative exploration of how drinkers evaluate consequences and what influences those evaluations. We conducted a series of single-gender focus groups (13 groups; 3–7 per group; n = 62, 48% female) with college student drinkers. Questions focused on: (a) types of negative and positive consequences experienced (b) personal perceptions of negative consequences and (c) factors influencing those perceptions. Verbatim transcripts were content analyzed using applied thematic analysis with NVivo software. Several negative consequences not included in current assessment tools emerged. Reactions to these “negative” consequences of alcohol misuse were not labeled as uniformly negative by participants. Contextual influences on reactions to consequences included: social factors (e.g., normative perceptions, social context, discussions with friends), level of intoxication, concurrent positive consequences, time, and alcohol as an excuse. Future research should focus on consequence measure development and examine interactions between contextual and individual influences on subjective consequence evaluations.

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