Alcohol Use High among College Students with Contingent Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is usually classified as high or low. People with high self-esteem have secure and positive views of themselves and believe that in general they have value. On the other hand, people with low self-esteem often have negative self-views and believe that they do not have a high self-worth. But self-esteem can be broken down even further. High self-esteem can be divided into categories of secure and fragile.

In a recent study led by Virgin Zeigler-Hill of the Department of Psychology at Oakland University in Michigan, these two types of self-esteem were studied to determine their effects on alcohol use in a sample of 623 college students. Zeigler-Hill classified secure self-esteem participants as those with consistent and general high levels of self-esteem. Fragile self-esteem was identified as contingent, meaning those with fragile self-esteem only felt good enough if they achieved certain goals or accomplished certain things. Participants with secure and fragile self-esteem reported their alcohol consumption behaviors and consequences and these results were compared to those of students with low self-esteem.

Zeigler-Hill found that the students with fragile self-esteem had similar drinking patterns and consequences as those with low self-esteem. Overall, even though the fragile self-esteem individuals did have higher self-esteem with respect to some domains, the contingencies they placed on their self-esteem created pressures that caused them to be more vulnerable to stress. This led to negative coping strategies, such as increased alcohol use.

Also, even though they had negative consequences from drinking, the fragile high self-esteem individuals did not drink less as a result. Zeigler-Hill believes that the need to fit in and be good enough could be the catalysts for drinking behaviors in the fragile high self-esteem participants. There were also differences between men and women, with women drinking slightly less than the men in each category.

Gender nuances were not fully explored in this study, but Zeigler-Hill feels they should be examined more closely in future work. Until that time, these findings shed light on various aspects of self-esteem and how they relate to negative coping strategies. Zeigler-Hill added, “These results suggest it is important to account for markers of fragility—such as contingent self-esteem—when considering the connections between self-esteem level and alcohol-related outcomes.”

Zeigler-Hill, V., Whitney J. Stubbs, and Michael B. Madson. (2013). Fragile Self-Esteem and Alcohol-Related Negative Consequences among College Student Drinkers. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 32.5 (2013): 546-67.ProQuest. Web.

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  • H Key

    H Key

    May 30th, 2013 at 10:07 PM

    People with high self esteem are not necessarily at peace with themselves.I have seen people act like they have self esteem but at times they show their vulnerability,they have this thing created inside.Its almost as if they are forcing themselves to act like they have high self esteem.That can be pretty dangerous as I can imagine.

  • Audrey


    May 31st, 2013 at 3:50 AM

    I don’t have a whole lot of experience with college age kids other than remembering way back to my own clollege days. But what I do remember is that it didn’t matter if you were the most confident person in the world or if you had the self esteem of a turtle. You were going to drink and there would always be ample opportunity and availability for you to do so. It probably is even worse for those students who are already searching for a way to fit in and to make their way in this complicated maze, but how do you ever really know who these kids are? Sure some wear it on their sleeves but there are others who look so strong on the outside when really they are falling apart on the inside. Let’s just not target those who we think might be susceptible, because in all honesty, most of them are.

  • cindy


    May 31st, 2013 at 11:58 PM

    so its almost as if these people are creating a false self esteem for themselves.that cannot be good.the excessive alcohol consumption could mean they are trying to bury their insecurities through that.this definitely needs intervention,to help them,to help them not destroy themselves.can concerned colleges please stand up?!

  • gordon


    June 1st, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    Forgive me if I have this all wrong but it doesn’t seem that fragile self- esteem is really having self-esteem at all. I mean if you have to rely on achievement to make you feel good, and that comes from meeting goals or whatever, then that’s not really feeling that good about yourself. I don’t want to have to depend on something outside of me to make me feel good and confident, and I certainly don’t want that for my kids. I want them to feel good and to have good self-esteem when they succeed and when they fail, when they meet their goals or when they make a good effort to achieve them. If they don’t have that and I don’t have that, I don’t consider that fragile; I actually consider that lacking.

  • boyd


    June 3rd, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    College gives most kids that perfect storm of availability of alcohol as well as the freedom to try new things to lead to a lot of drinking problems for kids among this age group. I don’t know if it is all about self esteem or not. What I have always seen a lot of is the kids who led sheltered lives up until this point are the ones who have the most difficult time adjusting to college and all of the enw things that they will automatically encounter. It might actually be more about having the self confidence to be able to say no than it has to do with self esteem.

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