Sports and Spirits: A Systematic Qualitative Review of Emergent Theories for Student-Athlete Drinking

  1. Jin Zhou* and
  2. Derek Heim
  1. Department of Psychology, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, UK
  1. *Corresponding author: Department of Psychology, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk L39 4QP, UK. Tel.: +44-1695-584522; E-mail: zhoujn{at}
  • Received June 2, 2014.
  • Revision requested June 26, 2014.
  • Revision received August 11, 2014.
  • Accepted August 17, 2014.

Aims: To review the current literature and critically examine theories used to explain the link between athletic status and hazardous alcohol consumption, and highlight emergent perspectives. Methods: A search of online databases (Google Scholar, PubMed, ScienceDirect, PsychINFO) and a systematic methodology were used to identify relevant studies for inclusion. Sixty-six articles were included for review (publishing dates ranging from 1989 to 2013). Results: The majority of the studies were from the USA (n = 52), with cross-sectional surveys the most utilized method of data collection. The literature outlines a number of important sport-specific factors that may be motivating drinking behaviour among student athletes. Moreover, social processes appear particularly important for sport-associated drinking. However there is still paucity in the theoretical underpinnings for this relationship, and the processes through which membership of a sports group may shape its members drinking. The role of identity emerged as an important variable to consider when exploring engagement of health behaviours, such as alcohol consumption. Conclusions: With the aim of reducing alcohol-related harm, the impact of sports group membership on psychosocial variables such as social identity and well-being warrants further exploration. Future research should explore the role of identity and group-level processes when examining the engagement of drinking behaviours of student sportspeople.