Is Mindfulness Protective Against Drinking to Cope for University Students?

Nicole Willows

July 18th 2019


University campuses are known for their binge drinking culture [1], with almost 60% of Canadian undergraduate students reporting binge drinking (5 or more drinks on one occasion) within the last 15 days [1].  In this environment, students are more at risk to use alcohol as a way to cope with stress.  However, some researchers have hypothesized that mindfulness can mediate the relationship between a person’s cognitive state and their behavioural response [2]. More simply, mindfulness may prevent the consumption of alcohol when one is experiencing a negative emotion and a craving for alcohol.  


Drinking to Cope

Drinking to cope is a problematic behaviour in which individuals use alcohol to manage their stress [4].  Past research has suggested that students who have more depressive symptoms are more likely to engage in problem drinking behaviours, a relationship which is partially explained by the motivation to drink as a form of coping [4].  Given the high rates of binge drinking in university students and the high life stress associated with university, many researchers have sought to understand how the behaviour of drinking to cope is related to mental health.


Mindfulness and Drinking to Cope

Trait mindfulness, or the disposition to exhibit nonjudgmental attention and responses to one’s daily experiences, may be protective against drinking to cope because individuals are aware of, but not automatically reacting towards, their current emotional states [3]. A study from researchers Bravo, Pearson, Stevens, and Henson at Old Dominion University suggested that mindfulness may reduce the use of alcohol as a response to depressive symptoms [5].  In the study, individuals with low to average scores of trait mindfulness demonstrated a stronger indirect relationship between depressive symptoms and alcohol use problems, which was mediated by drinking-to-cope motivations [5]. This suggests that higher levels of mindfulness may protect against using problem drinking as a coping strategy during emotional distress.  

Similarly, researchers Vinci, Spears, Peltier, and Copeland at Louisiana State University demonstrated that individuals with higher levels of “Acting with Awareness” and “Nonjudgement,” which are facets of trait mindfulness, were less likely to engage in problematic drinking, and less likely to drink as a method of coping [3].  



Undergraduate students with high levels of mindfulness have a weaker association between depressive symptoms and drinking to cope motives [5]. This suggests that by increasing their awareness of their emotional states, individuals may experience reduced problematic alcohol use behaviours, such as drinking to cope.  This could indicate that mindfulness is protective against drinking to cope for university students. You can learn more about mindfulness from the websites below.  Thanks for reading!


Useful Websites

Canadian Mental Health Association

Online Mindfulness Tools:

UVic Meditation & Mindfulness:





[1] Kwan MY, Faulkner GE, Arbour-Nicitopoulos KP, Cairney J. Prevalence of health-risk behaviours among Canadian post-secondary students: Descriptive results from the National College Health Assessment. BMC Public Health. 2013;13(1):548.

[2] Witkiewitz K, Bowen S. Depression, craving and substance use following a randomized trial of mindfulness-based relapse prevention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2012;78(3):362-374.

[3] Vinci C, Spears CA, Peltier MR, Copeland AL. Drinking motives mediate the relationship between facets of mindfulness and problematic alcohol use. Mindfulness. 2016;7(3):754-763.

[4] Bravo, A. J., Pearson, M. R., & Henson, J. M. (2016). Drinking to Cope With Depressive Symptoms and Ruminative Thinking: A Multiple Mediation Model Among College Students. Substance Use & Misuse,52(1), 52-62. doi:10.1080/10826084.2016.1214151

[5] Bravo AJ, Pearson MR, Stevens LE, Henson JM. Depressive symptoms and alcohol-related problems among college students: A moderated-mediated model of mindfulness and drinking to cope. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2016;77(4):661-666.


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