An Examination of Alcohol Use and Academic Burnout Among University Students in the Era of COVID-19

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Emerging research suggests the onset of the coronavirus pandemic was associated with increased burnout (e.g., Reichel et al., 2023; Salmela-Aro et al., 2022), distress (e.g., von Keyserlingk et al., 2021), and alcohol use (e.g., Lechner et al., 2020) among undergraduate students. As posited by the Self-Medication Hypothesis (Khantzian, 1997), individuals may engage in substance use to relieve psychological pain, and this represents one potential framework for understanding these changes. Using a structural equation modeling approach, this study examined the interrelationships among academic burnout, psychological distress, and alcohol use in university students before and after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, including potential moderating effects of first-generation student status. Data included archival survey responses previously collected from a large sample of U.S. undergraduate students at five universities during the Fall 2019 (n=559) and Fall 2020 (n=446) semesters. Results indicated the onset of COVID-19 did not significantly predict changes in burnout, distress, or alcohol use. Instead, burnout was a significant predictor of distress for all students (β = .58; p < .001), and it also predicted alcohol use for continuing-generation students, specifically (β = .16; p < .01). Overall, this study provides insight into student functioning following the onset of the pandemic, as well as the effects of academic burnout. Considerations for further research into coping strategies among continuing-generation and first-generation students are discussed.

Psychology, Clinical