Influential factors in college drinking

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

What influences students’ college drinking decisions?

  • Do friends peer pressure them?
  • Do they do it because they are bored?
  • Do they drink to relieve depression or anxiety?

Researchers recently tried to answer these questions by surveying college students…

65% of the participants reported having at least one drink in the past three months. It was astonishing that the typical number of drinks in a week was 10.5 and on a weekend was 7.3 average drinks. These numbers included drinkers and nondrinkers and was the average (meaning around half the people had more drinks as those had less). This indicates that college drinking is far more extreme than drinking happening outside of the college setting.

3 main influential factors for someone’s decisions in college drinking and to what extent:

  • If their close friends were drinking,
  • How drunk they thought they were, and
  • Their drinking intentions.

Interestingly enough, the more students thought others on their campus approved of drinking, the less they tended to drink. We recently reported similar misconceptions about students, their peers and marijuana use. Typically, if people intend to get drunk they use less protective factors (see here for a previous post about these) such as pacing or eating or keeping track of what they were drinking. Friends’ drinking was the best predictor of drinking habits in all cases.

You can tell a lot about a person by watching their friends, so watch who you surround yourself with. Those who think favorably of drinking tend to think they can drink more before reaching intoxication and also tend to hang out with others who do the same. However, these people are the ones that need the most intervention yet are the most difficult to change.

Those who socialize with a wide variety of people typically are lighter drinkers and tend to respond better to treatment immediately as well as have fewer problems further down the line. The heavier drinkers benefit more from motivational interventions focusing on their attitudes toward drinking.

Regardless of stereotypes, ethnicity, weight and gender did have an effect on any of these findings. It was peoples’ closest friends that were the most significant factor in influencing all aspects of college drinking.

Citation:
Examining the Unique Influence of Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Drinking Perceptions on Alcohol Consumption among College Students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Volume 70, 2, March 2009

Child Pornography: Internet sex offenders

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

Child pornography on the web is becoming increasingly harder to track down because of advances in technology and sex offenders’ increasing creativity at masking their true identity.

According to recent research – People who look at child pornography can be generally separated into 4 groups:

1. those who are solely curious or acting impulsively

2. Those who take part in a fantasy only pornography

3. Direct victimization where the offenders take part in online pornography as a prelude to both contact and non contact sexual offenses

4. Commercial exploitation offenders who make or sell photos to make money

Often offenders show abnormal functioning in the motivational/emotional areas of the brain. This can make them more likely to suffer from problematic mood states (like depression, anxiety, etc.).  They also have problems in selecting appropriate actions, especially when related to impulsive behaviors.

Regardless of the mood they are in many sexual compulsives find themselves getting lost in the internet and use it as a way of escaping from reality and finding pleasure. These escapes can last many hours (8-10 hours is not unusual in many cases). The internet also tends to bring out the impulsive behaviors in those especially that may already have impulse control issues. This is due to the anonymous nature of online interactions.

These are some common beliefs often shared by people within this group:

a. Children can be seen as and used as sexual beings because they enjoy it. Sex isn’t harmful to children.

c. The adult offender is more important and worthy of pleasure.

d. The world itself is dangerous and predatory behavior is natural.

e. The world is uncontrollable and their predatory behaviors are due to uncontrollable factors

There are some basic differences between offenders who stay online and those who engage in direct victimization. About 25% internet offenders suffered sexual abuse themselves as children whereas about 36% of contact offenders suffered sexual abuse and more often they suffered at a younger age.  Also, internet only offenders were more likely to have partaken in heterosexual play prior to puberty while contact offenders more often engaged in homosexual play. As usual, these difference are correlational and don’t necessarily indicate a causal relationship.

Citation:

Elliot, Ian, Beech, Anthony. Understanding Online Child Pornography Use: Applying sexual offense theory to internet offenders. Aggression and Addiction. 14,3 May-June 2009 (180-193)

Alcohol, sleep, and school work: College drinking and GPA

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

We all know that college students often party and sleep more than they actually study.  But do heavy alcohol use and poor sleep patterns cause poor grades?

A recently published study found that just altering bed times by 2 hours can throw off your sleepiness during the day.  Most students in the study did show a 2-4 hour difference in daily bed times between weekdays and the weekend, and most went to bed after midnight.

The average number of drinks for participants came in around 6 drinks a night (equal for men and women).

The big question is: can these heavy drinkers in college still perform well academically? (See here for influential factors in college drinking)

No matter what the cause, insufficient sleep causes poor academic consequences.  Interestingly, those students who reported much more sleep also had lower GPAs (oversleep was mostly assumed, by the researchers, to be caused by drinking and staying up too late, though it could have been due to other issues such as depression).

Overall, those that drank more often went to sleep later and also had bigger gaps between weekday and weekend bedtimes, all of which correlated very highly with a lower GPA.

Citation:

Singleton, Wolfson (2009). Alcohol Consumption, Sleep And Academic Performance Among College Students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 70, 355-363)

Body image and medicalization: Socially relevant behavioral “addictions” beyond drug use

We know that addiction can go beyond drug use, but are we becoming addicted to making our bodies perfect?

I put “addiction” in parentheses here because I think it’s important to distinguish substance-related addictions from behavioral ones. There’s no doubt that people’s behavior can become compulsive in the same way addicts become compulsive about using, but I’ve seen no evidence that behavioral addictions interfere with brain function in the way that cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiates alter actual brain mechanisms.

Still, this recent trend of obsessive plastic surgery is a dual-headed “addiction”, one that is both physical and social.  In many ways, people are now able to change aspects of their being that were once thought unalterable including their own physical appearances. To gain social acceptance, if you have money, you now have new tools!

This may also play a big role for those who are love addicted, at least if they have money… Continue reading “Body image and medicalization: Socially relevant behavioral “addictions” beyond drug use”

Will you get addicted? Signs of drug abuse

Everyone wants to know if they can become addictedEveryone wants to know if they, or someone they love will get addicted to alcohol or drugs.

• Parents want to know if their children are likely to become addicts, especially if there is a family history of addiction.

• Teens wonder if trying a drug will lead to a life of crime and shame.

So what are the signs of drug abuse?!

Unfortunately, I have to start with the answer you probably don’t want to hear: no single factor can be said to fully predict substance abuse. Instead, the equation can be thought of as an interplay of risk-factors and protective-factors.

Having family members with alcohol- or drug-abuse problem is an example of a risk-factor. The more risk-factors a person has the more likely it is that person will become addicted. Some risk factors interact to make the likelihood of addiction much greater than either factors alone.

Protective-factors are life events or experiences that reduce or moderate the effect of exposure to risk factors. Some examples of protective factors are: parental-monitoring, self-control, positive relationships, academic competence, anti-drug use policies, and neighborhood attachment.

Risk Factors Vs. Protective factors – An implicit battle

There are five categories of risk and protective factors including individual, school, peer, community and family. Examples of protective factors within the individual category include social skills and responsiveness, emotional stability, positive sense of self, problem solving skills, flexibility, and resilience.

Other aspects of the individual category include the gender and ethnicity of a person. Men are generally more likely to become addicted (likely because they are less prone for internalizing issues like depression). American-Indians are genetically more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, while about 20% of the Jewish population may have genetic variations that protect them against alcoholism. Overall, estimates regarding the genetic influence on addiction risk range from 40% to 80%. Much of that genetic risk lies in changes related to the functioning of neurotransmitters that play a part in the development of addiction such as GABA, serotonin, dopamine, NMDA. Those with mental disorders of all types are at an increased risk for developing an addiction.

Some factors, like stress, can be considered part of multiple categories. Individual variability in stress response (via the HPA Axis) would be part of the individual category, while levels of environmental stress can be part of the other four categories.

questioning-terrierThe home and school life of a child (part of the non-individual categories) can play a large role as either risk-, or protective-factors. If a child sees elders using drugs, they may view drugs as harmless, but children who are well prepared by their parents may better resist peer-pressure to use drugs. As we stated before, the earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more susceptible they are to harmless effects on brain structures and other bodily functions.

Certain methods of using drugs can also be considered risk-factors. Smoking or injecting a drug causes it to be more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, producing an almost instantaneous high when compared with eating or drinking a drug. However, the quick rush of euphoria may soon dissipate and leave the user feeling the “rebound effect” making them crave the high again. This quick, short lasting, cycle is believed to encourage the user to want to the drug again in hopes of reaching that high.

Overall there is no one thing that can predict or protect against addiction. Instead, a combination of factors are always at play and the more aware a person is of these factors the more able they are to protect themselves.

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

Citations:

http://www.psychiatry.ufl.edu/aec/courses/501/risk%20and%20protective%20factors.pdf

http://www.drugabuse.gov/scienceofaddiction/addiction.html

http://www.aadac.com/documents/profile_youth_risk_protective_factors.pdf

 

420, smoking weed, and drug problems : Marijuana facts

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

It’s April 20th, or 4-20, and anyone who smokes marijuana knows what that means – It’s time to smoke weed- a lot of weed!

In honor of this “stoner” holiday, or perhaps in reverence of its implications, I wanted to put together a post that explored some recent findings having to do with the most commonly used illegal substance in the U.S.
These two studies deal specifically with smoking weed, teenagers, and drug problems.

Study 1 – Misconceptions of marijuana use prevalence

An article in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has revealed that most young adults greatly overestimate how many of their peers smoke weed. Teens surveyed believed that 98% of their peers smoked marijuana at least once a year – In reality, only 51.5% off the teens reported actually ever smoking marijuana.

To make matters worse, even though only 15% of the teens reported using once a month or more, the estimate among peers was closer to 65%!!! Since we know that perception of peer behavior affects adolescents greatly, such misconceptions can easily lead to false peer-pressure towards marijuana use.

So next time instead of assuming everyone smokes weed, think again.It’s one of the most commonly used drugs but the notion that everyone smokes weed is simply wrong.

Reference: Kilmer, Walker, Lee, Palmer, Mallett, Fabiano, & Larrimer (2006). Misperceptions of College Students Marijuana use: Implications for Prevention. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 67, pp. 277-281.

Study 2 – Teens reducing use can reduce marijuana dependence risk

This next study dealt with early patterns of weed smoking as possible predictors of later problems use. They followed more than 1500 respondents from adolescence (ages 15-17) into young adulthood (ages 21-24).

The article revealed some interesting overall patterns, but I’ll keep the results short and simple, it is 4-20 after all…

The good news? Teens who reduced their use during the first phase of the study (the teens years) were at a significantly lower risk for marijuana dependence and regular use in early adulthood. This suggests that successful interventions may be effective at reducing later problem use.

The bad news? All marijuana smokers who used at least weekly showed the highest risk for later problems even if they reduced their use… This is not that surprising of a finding though since dependence usually involves regular use.

The bottom line? Reducing marijuana use at any stage will lower your risk for later problem use, but those who find themselves smoking often are most likely to end up in some trouble even if they try to cut down. Knowledge is power, so if you think you might be at risk and are concerned, talking to someone can’t hurt. Knowing marijuana facts can’t hurt either.

Reference: Swift, Coffey, Carlin, Degenhardt, Calabria & Patton (2009). Are adolescents who moderate their cannabis use at lower risk of later regular and dependent cannabis use? Addiction, 104, pp 806-814.

For a different view on 420, see this video:


Alcohol – Blackouts, Brownouts and how they affect your body

Do you remember what you did last night? Have you ever not remembered what you did after drinking? Drinking alcohol affects the brain and can cause lasting damage including, but not limited to, slips in memory. These memory slips can be due to lack of blood flow to brain areas that are important for memory consolidation and are commonly known as blackouts. Contrary to what popular belief, blackouts often occur in social drinkers and don’t seem to be related to age or level of alcohol dependence.

 

Blackouts and the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) rate

Amnesia, or memory dysfunction, can begin to occur even with as few as one or two drinks containing alcohol. However, as the amount of alcohol intake increases so does the probability of memory impairment. Although heavy drinking alone will not always cause blackouts, heavy drinking of alcohol on an empty stomach or “chugging” alcoholic drinks often does cause blackouts.

The estimated BAC (blood alcohol content) range for blackouts begins at levels .14%- .20%. Individuals who reached high BAC levels slowly experienced far less common occurrences of blackouts. Additionally, while blackouts lead to forgetting entire events that happened while intoxicated, some individuals experience an inability to recall only parts of an event or episode (these are often called brownouts).

Blackouts can occur to anyone who drinks too much too fast. In a survey of college students, males and females experienced an equal number of blackouts, although men consumed a significantly more alcohol.

Although brain damage could potentially occur from heavy alcohol consumption, there is no evidence that blackouts are caused by brain damage per se. However, if brain damage is caused from excessive alcohol use, some studies show improvements in brain function with as little as a year of abstinence. Regardless of the possibility of reversing any effects, alcohol use causes damage in different areas of the body (including the liver), and those damages have been shown to occur more quickly among females.

Co-authored by Jamie Felzer

 

Citations:

1. White, Aaron M., Signer, Matthew L., Kraus, Courtney L. and Swartzwelder, H. Scott(2004). Experiential Aspects of Alcohol-Induced Blackouts Among College Students, The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse,30:1,205 — 224

2. Alcohol Alert (2004) . Alcoholic Brain Damage. Alcohol Research & Health, Vol. 27.