Exploring the role of social belonging and popularity in UK student drinking behaviour

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Aims: This study aimed to explore the relationships between UK student drinking behaviour, and i) social belonging and ii) need for popularity.

Design: Quantitative data was collected using a cross-sectional survey.

Setting: University/Higher Education.

Participants: A self-selecting convenience sampling strategy was used, with 734 students completing an online survey (M = 21.8 years, SD = 4.24). The sample contained 237 male and 480 female students, who were enrolled on Arts, Business and Science undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Measurements: The questionnaire battery included; i) demographic questions, ii) the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), iii) two questions from the Alcohol Smoking Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST), iv) the social belonging subscale from Quality of Student Life Questionnaire (QSLQ) and v) the need for popularity subscale from a measure of peer pressure, conformity and popularity.

Findings & Conclusions: Students were consuming hazardous levels of alcohol (Mdn = 10.00), with 76% of students scoring 5+ on the AUDIT-C, indicating increased or high risk drinking. After alcohol, cigarettes (6.8%) and cannabis (5.7%) were the most frequently used substances on a monthly basis. Positive relationships were observed between i) social belonging and AUDIT scores (rho =.28, p<.001), and ii) need for popularity and AUDIT scores (rho =.30, p<.001). Students categorised as ‘hazardous’, ‘harmful’ and ‘dependent’ drinkers had significantly higher perceptions of social belonging and need for popularity scores than ‘low risk’ drinkers (p<.001). These results provide evidence that positive social factors associated with alcohol use may help us to understand the allure of drinking and suggest that effective alcohol interventions may need to be socially orientated.


1. Dr Sarah Partington, Principal Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology, Department of Sport, Exercise & Rehabilitation, Northumbria University, 2. Dr Elizabeth Partington, Programme Director and Senior Lecturer, Department of Sport, Exercise & Rehabilitation, Northumbria University, 3. Dr Fran Longstaff, Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology, London Sport Institute, Middlesex University, 4. Professor Nick Heather, Emeritus Professor of Alcohol & Other drug studies, Northumbria University,

Conflicts of interest:

Funding Sources: Department Research Budget, £150 requested & approved for prize draw voucher

No conflict of interest


Download the presentation

Download the full presentation here

Miss Joanne Smith