New Study of Muslim College Students and Alcohol Consumption


The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) recently published a report on alcohol use among Muslim college students in America. This report was part of an effort to better understand the prevalence of alcohol use among Muslim college students, to test the feasibility of studying hard to reach groups, and to identify possible areas of intervention. The study explored the relationship of alcohol use based on a variety of factors that included family, religious and personal beliefs, and social influences using respondent-driven sampling with a web-based survey for this particular demographic.

The study sampled 156 self identified Muslim undergraduate students at Wayne State University, located in Detroit, MI. 9.1% of students surveyed said they used alcohol at least once in their lifetime. According to the report, this is much lower than a previous 2001 national survey of college students in which over 45% of Muslim students used alcohol; it is also lower than a recent 2010 federally funded study that reported 63.3% of all college students using alcohol within the past month.

The study used Reference Group Theory, according to which an individual might look to or reference a particular group’s appropriate behaviors and actions when deciding how they will act. This includes religious groups, peers, and parents. These reference groups were examined in the context of the influence they played in a Muslim student’s decision to drink alcohol.

Not surprisingly, the ISPU study found parents, the student’s religious understandings and beliefs, as well as social actors such as peers, friends, and the community were all strong influences on a student’s decision to drink. For example, the study notes that students who drank generally had social networks that included others who drank, while those who abstained associated with non-drinking social networks.

The behavior of Muslim parents was an influence on students and drinking; those who drank reported their parents as having consumed alcohol before while those who abstained reported their parents to also have abstained. The attitudes, however, that parents had towards drinking did not seem to affect the actions of the youth. The difference between behavior and attitude is worthy of additional studies, especially among mixed families such as native born-immigrant marriages or Muslim and non-Muslim marriages.

Interestingly, outward behavior such as prayer and attending mosques was not as strong an influence in choosing to drink compared to the influence of a student’s beliefs and understanding of Islam. Compartmentalizing one’s actions in public and private space, especially as a minority, warrants further studies.

In addition, the study shows that despite opinions and concerns, social attitudes and behaviors of this specific demographic can be tapped for research beyond simple news stories. The study would be strengthened if it included a larger, more diverse group of Muslims given the limitations of the Detroit area. In addition, the study did not indicate if it measured for additional or other drug usage beyond alcohol such as marijuana, prescription pills, ect., which may serve to better understand this hard to reach group and the social complexity of the issue. The study focuses on the context of youth but does not explicitly indicate their approach to youth as a demographic, a culture, a context, or a transient stage as others have done.

M Al-K

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