Social learning theory presents a comprehensive approach to studying drinking, where cognitive and behavioural determinants are thought to interact to govern drinking behaviour. While investigation of alcohol-related cognitions, such as alcohol expectancies and drinking refusal self-efficacy, has lead to a more detailed description of cognitive variables governing drinking behaviour, behavioural factors impacting on this relationship have largely been ignored. One such factor is the role individual coping strategies play in determining both the decision to drink and the volume of alcohol consumed. While a role for coping has been established, to date no one has investigated how expectancies, drinking refusal self-efficacy and coping interact to govern drinking behaviour. Chapter 1 of this thesis reviewed the literature on expectancies, drinking refusal self-efficacy and coping and emphasised the need to include coping in an alcohol expectancy framework.
Chapter 2 discussed measurement issues in alcohol research and highlighted the need to examine the psychometric properties of questionnaires commonly used in alcohol research. Particular attention was drawn to the common practise of utilising general measures of coping to assess the coping-drinking relationship, without first validating their use in drinking samples. Such oversights contribute to the inconsistencies reported in the coping literature.
Consequently, the five empirical studies presented in this thesis addressed two primary objectives: first to examine the validity of using a general measure of coping with stress in alcohol research, and second, to examine the interactions between coping strategies, alcohol expectancies and drinking refusal self-efficacy in community and dependent drinkers.
Chapter 3 examined the psychometric properties of the Drinking Refusal Self- Efficacy Questionnaire, a measure of an individual's belief in their ability to resist drinking. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses performed with data colleted from 2773 participants resulted in changes to the original questionnaire. The resulting Drinking Refusal Self-Efficacy Questionnaire - Revised was subsequently validated in student, community and alcohol dependent samples. The revised version of the questionnaire was used throughout the remaining studies presented in this thesis.
Chapters 4 and 5 of this thesis examined the psychometric properties of the COPE, a general measure designed to assess how people cope with stress. A literature review indicated that this measure has not been validated for use in drinking samples. Confirmatory factor analyses indicated that although the COPE is a reliable measure of coping strategies in community drinkers, it could not reliably assess coping strategies used by dependent drinkers. A follow-up study revealed that five factors shown to exhibit some reliability in this sample were primarily found to be most sensitive to alcohol consumption in the community sample, as well as the alcohol-dependent sample. Taken together, the results of these studies indicated that it is not acceptable to use general measures of coping in a drinking sample.
Chapters 6 and 7 examined the independent and interactive effects of coping strategies, outcome expectancies and drinking refusal self-efficacy in predicting the frequency and volume of alcohol consumption by community and dependent drinkers. Based on social learning theory it was expected that differential relationships between these variables would be evident in the two diverse drinking samples.
Indeed, the results of these two studies suggested that while coping strategies, outcome expectancies and drinking refusal self-efficacy were all associated with either the frequency or the volume of alcohol consumed, the nature of these relationships was highly complex. In general coping strategies were found to be highly significant in governing the decision to drink in dependent drinkers, while self-efficacy appeared paramount in limiting the volume of alcohol consumed by community drinkers. Complex interactions were also observed between the variables. The studies presented in Chapters 6 and 7 served to highlight the complexity of drinking behaviour and emphasised the need for researchers to consider such interactions in examining the mechanisms underlying drinking behaviour.
The final chapter of this thesis consolidated these results and proposed a model describing the role of coping, expectancies and drinking refusal self-efficacy in the aetiology and maintenance of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Theoretical implications, directions for future research and limitations were also discussed.