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J. DRUG EDUCATION, Vol.

21 (4) 303-312, 1991

PERSONAL AND SOCIAL MOTIVATIONS AS


PREDICTORS OF SUBSTANCE USE AMONG
COLLEGE STUDENTS

TONY L. HADEN, PH.D.


Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
ELIZABETH W. EDMUNDSON, PH.D.
University of Texas, Center for Health Promotion,
Research and Development, Austin

ABSTRACT

The Drug Use Survey was administered via a direct mail to a simple random
sample of 2200 students enrolled at a large southwestern U.S. university. A
purpose of the study was to determine the predictability of self-reported drug
use utilizing motivations (personal and social) commonly reported by substance users. Two subscales were developed, one for each category of motivations. Reliability for each subscale as estimated by coefficient alpha was 80
and .86, respectively. A series of step-wise multiple regression analyses were
computed in which individual drug use indices served as criterion variables,
while the predictor variables were the personal motivations subscale (PMS)
and the social motivation subscale (SMS) for each model. The results indicated that the PMS was the stronger predictor in every model with the
exception of the model that predicted the alcohol use index. The SMS was the
best predictor for alcohol use.

Among college students who use psychoactive drugs, the primary substance of
choice is alcohol, with marijuana a distant second and other recreational drugs an
even more distant third [l-31. While the national media focuses on the use of crack
cocaine and the negative health and behavioral effects associated with it, college
campuses continue to experience the traditional use of alcohol by the vast majority
of students [2-31. Since the 1960s, marijuana has remained a secondary, but
significant, substance of choice with approximately half as many students using
303
8 1991, Baywood Publishing Co., Inc.

doi: 10.2190/WC1D-7XHR-ATQJ-81NP
http://baywood.com

304 / HADEN AND EDMUNDSON

the drug on a regular basis as use alcohol. The remaining substances used recreationally by college students are done so on a limited basis relative to alcohol.
The multifaceted nature of drug taking behavior is reflected in part by the
commonly reported yet diverse motivations associated with various patterns of
drug use [4-111. Motivations such as curiosity, a desire to alter consciousness,
exploration of the self, facilitation of social interaction, stimulation of artistic
creativity, enhancement of sensory experience and pleasure appear to be more
associated with recreational patterns of use. Motivations that seem to be connected to problematic relationships with drugs include boredom, rebellion against
societal expectations, peer pressure, and relief from emotional or physical pain.
More specifically, theoretical discussions of the notion that individuals use different drugs for different reasons are popular in textbooks and conference papers,
yet little evidence of systematic, data-based research on this issue has been
published.
The educational model of substance abuse prevention relies heavily upon the
dissemination of information concerning the adverse consequences of substance
misuse in order to counteract the motivations for drug use [4, 12, 131. One
weakness of this approach is that the potential negative consequences of drug use
are more often related to very heavy and long-term use rather than the pattern of
use most commonly found among college students. Additionally, motivations for
drug use are not the reciprocal of the motivations for abstinence [14]. By directly
addressing the motivations for use, educational interventions would not have to
rely upon the limited persuasiveness of potential adverse consequences messages.
The efficacy of education as a mitigator of substance abuse is predicated on
individuals internalizing the information on both the belief and attitudinal levels
[151. The tenuous relationship between education and behavior is accentuated in
college students due to their resiliency and the absence of chronic adverse effects
of drug use, both attributable to their youth [16]. In addition, the pleasurable
outcomes which often result from substance use frequently reinforces students
motivations for using drugs. Thus, quite understandably, the positive consequences of substance use often outweigh the negative consequences among this
population. If education is to be effective in preventing substance abuse, it is
imperative that the motivations for substance use be empirically determined and
objectively reported. Assumptions concerning the motivations for substance use
based upon anecdotal, experiential, and intuitive evidence are seductive, but
undermine the credibility of abuse prevention programs.
Therefore, the intent of this study was to determine the predictability of substance use among college students utilizing self-reported personal and social
motivations. Information concerning the relationship between substance use and
its motivations has direct abuse prevention implications. Specifically, the ability
of programs to intervene at the primary prevention level depends upon an understanding of the underlying motivational factors that correspond to the use of
specific psychoactive substances.

MOTIVATIONS AS PREDICTORS OF SUBSTANCE USE / 305

METHODOLOGY
A major institutional research survey on student drug use was conducted
at a large, public southwestern university. The survey was mailed to a simple
random sample of 2200 students with one follow-up letter. Respondents returned
the survey via a stamped addressed envelope that was included in the packet.
A cover letter explained the purpose of the survey and ensured the students
that participation was completely voluntary and anonymous. The net response
totalled 1013 or a 46.04 percent response rate. A comparison of the samples
demographic statistics indicated the sample mirrored the student populations
demographic parameters. Table 1 contains the demographic characteristics
the sample.

Instrument
The survey instrument consisted of 174 items that purported to measure: 1) personal substance use behavior (frequency, intensity, duration); 2) perceived substance use behavior of other students; 3) frequency of behaviors associated with
substance use; 4) motivations for substance use; 5) consequences of substance
use; 6) attitudes toward substance use relative to school and health; 7) demographics; and 8) miscellaneous items. The substances of interest to the study
included alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, tranquilizers,
psychedelics, and designer drugs (e.g., MDA, MDMA).
The Motivations for Substance Use section of the survey contained a response
category whereby the respondent could indicate that he/she was not a current user
of any substance. Thus, all analyses involving the motivation items included only
those respondents that reported to be current drug users.

Analyses
The Motivations for Substance use section of the survey consisted of eleven
Likert-type items covering a variety of specific reasons associated with alcohol
and other drug use. Respondents were asked to indicate the importance of each
reason as a motivator for their use of alcohol and other drugs. The response
categories for each item had three levels which ranged from not important,
moderately important, to very important. For the purposes of this study the
motivation items were grouped into two subscales, personal motivations (eight
items) and social motivations (three items) (see Table 2).
The Personal Substance Use Behavior section of the survey consisted of three
facets of drug use: 1)frequency of use; 2) intensity of effects of use; and 3) duration of effects of use. Due to differences in the pharmacology of the substances of
interest, comparison among the substances on only one facet or of each facet
individually could be very misleading. Therefore, an index comprised of the three
facets of drug use was computed for each of the substances.

306 / HADEN AND EDMUNDSON

Table 1. Biographic Background Characteristics of


Study Sample (n = 1013)
Variable

Frequency

Percent

489
523

48.3
51.6

223
31a
177
91
204

22.0
31.4
17.5
9.0
20.1

Class
Freshman
Sophomore
Junior
Senior
Graduate

147
1 a3
21 1
235
236

14.5
18.1
20.8
23.2
23.3

Race
Asian/Oriental
Black
White/Caucasian
Hispanic
Other

68
33
a09
97
6

6.7
3.3
79.9
9.6
.5

25
129
280
275
305

2.5
12.7
27.6
27.1
30.1

175
7
16
a1 4

17.3
0.7
1.6
80.4

Gender
Male
Female
Age

19 years or younger
20-21
22-23
24-25
26 years or older

Grade-Point Average

0.00-1.99
2.00-2.49
2.50-2.99
3.00-3.49
3.50-4.00
Marital Status
MarriedKohabitating
Separated
Divorced
Never Married

MOTIVATIONS AS PREDICTORS OF SUBSTANCE USE / 307

Table 2. Motivations for Substance Use Sub-scales


The reasons I use alcohol and/or other drugs are:

Personal Motivation Sub-scale

Social Motivation Sub-scale

pl
p2
p3
p4
p5
p6

sl

p7

to experiment
to relax
to get away from my problems
to escape boredom
to get to sleep
because of bad moods
to feel better about myself

s2

s3

to have a good time with friends


to fit in with the group I like
to celebrate

The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) was utilized to compute
eight step-wise multiple regression analyses, with the motivation subscales serving as the predictor variables in each of the models. One of the eight substance use
indexes served as the criterion variable in each model. A potential problem
inherent in using both of the motivation subscales as predictor variables was the
possibility of an intercorrelation between them that could result in their absolute
impact being masked. Although the subscales had no items in common, some of
the items have enough characteristics in common so as to make the question of
multicollinearity salient. Although the correlation between the subscales was not
high enough to support a claim of unidimensionality (r = .67),it was high enough
to warrant further analysis into the construct (factorial) validity of the subscales.
Therefore, a principal components analysis of the motivation items was conducted followed by varimax rotation of the components with eigenvalues greater
than one.
RESULTS

The internal consistency reliability estimate using Cronbachs coefficient alpha


for the entire instrument was found to be .96. Cronbachs coefficient alpha
provided estimates of reliability, .SO and .S6, for the personal and social motivations subscales, respectively. The descriptive statistics for the Motivation of
Substance Use subscales indicated that the social motivation items were slightly
stronger than the personal motivation items. On a scale of 0-3 with a score of 3
representing the strongest motivational level for an item, the social motivation
items had a relative mean of 2.54 with a standard deviation of .57, compared to the
personal motivation items that had a relative mean of 2.00 with a standard
deviation of .69.

308 / HADEN AND EDMUNDSON

As with the motivation subscales, the substance use indexes evidenced acceptable reliability estimates, with coefficient alpha ranging between .75 and .96.
Descriptive statistics for the substance use indexes and the intercorrelation matrix
for the indexes are presented in Table 3.
The results of the principal components analysis of the motivation item suggest
that the eleven items constituted two factors (see Table 4). The eight personal
motivation items had the highest factor loadings on factor one, and the three social
motivation items had the highest factor loadings on factor two. Therefore, while it
was never presumed that the subscales represented two separate unidimensional
constructs, it does appear that they did represent two facets of motivation that
were sufficiently discrete to warrant statistical comparison.
A series of stepwise multiple regression models were analyzed in which the
eight substance use indexes each served as the criterion variable (see Table 5). The
predictor variables for every regression model were the Personal Motivation
Subscale (PMS) and the Social Motivation Scale (SMS). The degree of predictability of the motivation subscales varied from substance to substance. In general,
Table 3. Descriptive Statistics of Substance Use Indexes
(Score range 0-15; N = 842)
Substance Use Index

Mean

Std. Dvn.

Coef Alpha

Alcohol
Marijuana
Cocaine
Amphetamine
Barbiturate
Tranquilizer
Psychedelics
Designer drugs

7.55
3.44
1.47
1.14
.48

2.02
3.58
2.90
2.58
1.68
1.83
3.27
3.39

.75
.93
.94

.68
1.49
1.68

.93

.91
.90
.96
.96

Pearson Correlation Coefficients Among Substance Use Indexes

Alcohol
Marijuana
Cocaine
Amphetamine
Barbiturate
Tranquilizer
Psychedelics
Designer drugs

Alc.

Mar.

1.oo
.47
.30
.25
.15
.16
.22

1.00
.59
.51
.30
.35

.33

.53
51

COC. Amp.

1.00
.72
.46
.45
.66
.60

1.00
.57

.50
.61
.55

Bar.

Tra.

Psy.

D.D.

1.00
.69
.44
.42

1.00
S3
.38

1.00
55

1 .OO

MOTIVATIONS AS PREDICTORS OF SUBSTANCE USE / 309

Table 4. Principal Components Analysis of the


Motivationsfor Drug Use Items
~~

Variable

Factor 1

Factor 2

Pl

.3962
.4608
1932
5449
.7356
.7339
.6597
.7591
.7460
.2133

.2963
.3850
.7615
.7373
.2629
.2970
.1413
.1929
.1959
.7391

P2
sl
s2
P3
P4
P5
P6

P7
s3

the PMS proved to be the stronger predictor of the two scales in that it was either
the first or only variable that entered into seven of the eight regression equations.
Every prediction model was statistically significant at thep c ,0001 level.
The regression analysis for which the Alcohol Use Index was the criterion
variable resulted in a two variable model in which the SMS was the strongest
predictor. This regression model had a Multiple R value of .72 and an adjusted
R-Squared value of .51. Alcohol use proved to be the most predictable of the
substance use behaviors.
The regression model for which the Marijuana Use Index was the criterion
variable resulted in a two variable equation in which the PMS was the stronger
predictor. As noted by Table 5 , this regression model yielded a Multiple R value
of .41 and an adjusted R-Squared value of .17. Marijuana use was the second most
predictable of the substance use behavior indexes.
Other regression models in which both predictor variables entered into the
equation and which the stronger predictor was the PMS included those for the
Barbiturate and the Tranquilizer Use Indexes. However, neither model proved
to have substantial predictiveness, with Multiple R values of .25 and .27 and
Adjusted R-Square values of .06 and .07, respectively.
The regression models for which the Cocaine, Amphetamine, Psychedelics and
Designer Drug Use Indexes were each the criterion variable resulted in only the
PMS entering into the equations at a significant level. However, those four
equations yielded R-Square values that also indicated limited contributions to the
predictability of the criterion variable.
Thus, while alcohol use was very predictable using the SMS and marijuana
use was moderately predictable using the PMS, the remaining six substances
were very difficult to predict from either social or personal motivations. The

310 / HADEN AND EDMUNDSON

Table 5. Summary Statistics Associated with the Stepwise


Multiple Regression Analysis
Personal and Social Motivation Sub-scales by Substance Use Index (n = 863)
~

Step

Variable Entered

Model R2

Multiple R

F-Ratio

p-Value

Dependent Variable = Alcohol Index

1
2

Social motivations
Personal motivations

0.3242
0.3470

0.5694
0.5890

452.47
250.31

0.0001

0.0001

Dependent Variable = Cocaine Index

1
2

Personal motivations
Social motivations

0.0753
0.0914

0.2744
0.3024

19.13
11.77

0.0001
0.0001

Dependent Variable = Marijuana Index


1
2

Personal motivations
Social motivations

0.091 1
0.0976

0.3019
0.3124

55.55
29.91

0.0001
0.0001

Dependent Variable = Tranquilizer Index


1

Personal motivations

0.0753

0.2745

12.71

0.0005

Dependent Variable = Designer Drugs Index

Personal motivations

0.0509

0.2255

10.56

0.0014

Dependent Variable = Psychedelics Index


1

Personal motivations

0.0481

0.2193

9.50

0.0024

Dependent Variable = Barbiturate Index


1

Personal motivations

0.0946

0.3075

10.45

0.0017

Dependent Variable = Amphetamine Index

Personal motivations

0.0839

0.2896

18.95

0.0017

general low levels of usage among substances other than alcohol and marijuana was a likely factor in the inability of the motivation subscales to adequately predict usage. Although the regression models for alcohol and marijuana use resulted in two-predictor variable equations, in each model the variable
that was entered second contributed little to the overall predictiveness of
the model.

MOTIVATIONSAS PREDICTORS OF SUBSTANCE USE / 31 1

CONCLUSI 0NS

The results of the descriptive statistics for both motivation subscales indicate
that, with the exception of alcohol, college students use drugs more for personal
reasons than for social reasons. Thus, primary prevention programs should be
directed toward the personal aspects of drug use. However, given the strength of
the SMS as a predictor of alcohol use and the fact that alcohol is the overwhelming
drug of choice among college students, it appears that prevention efforts should
also be directed toward addressing the social motivations for drinking.
The results found in this study also indicate a need for more research, given that
students motivations for substance use varied across specific drugs and therefore
may vary across other variables. Moreover, the complexity of substance use
behavior warrants abuse prevention efforts that should be tailored to the context.
In the case of motivation, there appears to be a difference in the type of reasons
why students use alcohol compared to other drugs. Thus, there should be a
corresponding difference in the way prevention programs address the use of
alcohol versus other recreational drugs.
Finally, it should be noted that research indicates that junior high school and
high school students use all drugs for primarily social reasons [17]. The results of
this study suggest that a fundamental shift in motivations of substance use occurs
among students as they mature and enter college such that personal motivations
increase in their influence on drug use behavior. The change in emphasis from
social to personal motivations for drug use may be consistent with the stage of
human development that characterizes most students college experience.

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312 / HADEN AND EDMUNDSON

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Direct reprint requests to:


Elizabeth W. Edmundson, Ph.D.
Center for Health Promotion
Research and Development
EDA 3
University of Texas
Austin, TX 78712