Using the theory of planned behaviour to understand binge drinking: The importance of beliefs for developing interventions


Professor David P. French, Applied Research Centre in Health and Lifestyles Interventions, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, Whitefriars Building, Priory Street, Coventry CV1 5FB, UK (e-mail:


Objectives.  To elicit students’ salient beliefs in relation to binge drinking, and to examine the extent to which individual salient beliefs predict theory of planned behaviour (TPB) constructs in relation to binge drink, and actual drinking behaviour assessed later that evening.

Design.  Longitudinal, over a single evening.

Methods.  192 students were recruited as they entered a campus bar at the beginning of the evening. They completed questionnaires with open-ended questions eliciting beliefs concerning binge drinking, and ratings scales assessing standard TPB constructs in relation to binge drinking. At the end of the evening, 181 completed a second questionnaire and recorded the number of alcoholic drinks they had consumed.

Results.  Beliefs were reliably coded (all kappas ≥0.79). Students with higher intentions to binge drink were more likely to believe that their friends approved of binge drinking, and that (lack of) money would make it difficult. Students who reported drinking more alcohol at the end of the evening were more likely to believe that getting drunk is an advantage/what they would like about binge drinking tonight, that their sports teams would approve, and that celebrating, drinking patterns, and environment would make it easy to binge drink.

Conclusions.  The present study has identified the individually salient beliefs relating to drinking behaviour that the TPB states should be addressed by interventions to alter behaviour, and which that should be assessed as mediators in intervention research. As a whole, these findings highlight the importance of perceived peer norms in binge drinking in this population, and support the idea of interventions to challenge the perception of social pressure to binge drink.