Study to Consider College Sports, Gender and Substance Use

By Kathleen Weaver

Release Date: June 22, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. – The relationships between participation in high school and college athletics, gender, substance use, and other health-risk behaviors in college-age young adults will be the focus of a study conducted under a $471,000 grant awarded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to researchers at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).

"Our goal in this study is to sort out how different aspects of athletic involvement are related to risk-taking," said Kathleen E. Miller, RIA research scientist. "Ultimately, our findings will help to develop strategies for effectively incorporating school sports programs as tools for sex-, drug-, or suicide-related risk prevention and public health promotion."

Miller's co-investigator on the award is Grace M. Barnes, RIA senior research scientist and adjunct associate professor in the Department of Sociology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. The study will extend previous research by a collaborative working group comprised of Miller; Barnes; Michael P. Farrell, professor and chair of the UB Department of Sociology; Merrill J. Melnick, professor of physical education and sport at Brockport State College, and Donald F. Sabo, professor of sociology at D'Youville College.

"The relationships between athletic involvement and adolescent health risk are complex and not well understood," Miller noted. "For example, previously we found that high school girls who participate in organized sports take significantly fewer sexual risks than those who don't participate in sports, but male athletes may actually be at greater risk than male non-athletes. For other kinds of risky behavior, it appears that what matters most is not actual participation but identity; teen-agers who identify with the 'jock' label are especially susceptible to problem drinking."

Other studies have been unable to separate these complex relationships because they simply compared athletes and nonathletes. In contrast, Miller said this study will explore four distinct dimensions of athletic involvement: characteristics of participation (e.g., which sports are played, at what competitive level, etc.), extent of participation (e.g., how many years of participation, average number of hours/week

of participation, etc.), sport-related identity (e.g., "my body is my temple" athlete or "life of the party" jock), and sport-related norms (e.g., how much social status is associated with a given sport in a given context, formal and informal training rules regarding drug use, etc.).

Using college-athlete focus groups and surveys of Brockport and D'Youville students, the study will develop comprehensive measures of both objective athletic participation (what people do) and subjective sport-related identity (how people perceive themselves, or are perceived by others).

Subsequently, a final round of questionnaires will be administered to UB undergraduate student-athletes and non-athletes in order to investigate how high school and college athletic involvement is linked to young-adult substance use (tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs), sexual risk-taking, and suicidal behavior.

The Research Institute on Addictions has been a leader in the study of addictions since 1970 and a research center of the University at Buffalo since 1999.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 27,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs.