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

Is the drinking age getting lower and lower? Teenage alcoholism

How young do kids start drinking?We’ve already mentioned that kids tend to get in quite a bit of trouble during their teen years (see here). Well, adolescence is also a time when the brain is developing and therefore is at a high risk for damage, especially when alcohol abuse enters the picture.

Early use means more alcoholism later

While the risk taking can be playful and harmless, when it involves alcohol and drugs the consequences of use at an early age can be long-lasting. The earlier a person begins drinking the higher the reported rates of alcoholism later in life. During this time, when an adolescent’s brain is changing, they are less likely to be able to inhibit themselves, let alone anticipate the future. Those with hyperactive, disruptive, antisocial personalities are at the greatest risk for alcohol abuse at early ages, putting their already somewhat compromised brains at an even greater risk.

Teens, like adults, report feeling more at ease when under the effects of alcohol, which makes it easy to understand why they would want to continue. Less like (some) adults, teens rarely consider the negative consequences of their actions, a fact that has at least a little to do with their still developing brain structures. But there are consequences to alcohol abuse and they can be dire – over 5000 kids die each year as a result of underage drinking.

Young bodies and early alcohol damage

Before these young adults are truly mature, their intake of alcohol may not be properly resolved by their bodies because their regulatory systems are not fully developed and can be further taxed by the intake of alcohol. Alcohol abuse in a young age can have a lasting effect on brain development resulting in impairments for many years to follow. Reproductive organs and other important maturation factors may also be stunted due to a consumption of alcohol during a vital time (especially when binge drinking). As with most people who drink, regardless of the age, liver enzymes are elevated soon after the heavy drinking begins, meaning the body is less able to ward off other toxins.

Parents and alcoholism

Children of parents who drink more and view drinking with a laid back opinion are more likely to drink more as well. This may not be a problem as long as responsible consumption is discussed, but my guess is that it rarely is. Also, kids who have older friends are more likely to begin drinking at an earlier age. Teens that have become addicted to alcohol need help specifically tailored to their age group that does not remove them from their normal home and school setting. It’s been shown that isolating these kids, or specifically grouping them together, may do more harm than good.

Often, adolescents with alcohol abuse problems are also using other drugs, and they may be suffering from other psychological disorders. All of the issues need to be treated at the same time in order to effectively treat the entire person. No matter what the issue(s), the sooner they are dealt with the more effective the results.

Teenage alcoholism is a problem, and one that we shouldn’t be ignoring.

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

Citations:

“Adolescent Brain Development, Decision making, and Alcohol Abuse and Dependence” NIAAA Research. November 2007.

“Why do Adolescents drink, What are the Risks, and How can Underage Drinking be prevented?” Alcohol Alert. January 2006, 67

About Addiction: Prescription Medication, Anti Smoking, Alcohol, Ecstasy, and Marijuana

We have the newest links about addiction. This week we feature info on cough medicine, prescription medication, smoking, alcohol, ecstasy, and marijuana. Let us know what you think and leave us your feedback.

Cough and Prescription Medication

CNN Health: The trend for kids to abuse cough medicine is either back, or never left since my days in high-school. Kids get high from a large dose of dextromethorphan, the active ingredient in Robitussin, hence the trend’s nickname “Robo tripping”.

Health Day: Substance abuse treatment admissions of prescription medication (mostly pain relievers) have increased over 400 percent during 10 years. The proportion of admissions for abusers increased from 2.2 percent in 1998 to 9.8 percent in 2008.

Anti Smoking Campaign

New York Times: According to federal officials, the nation has failed to reach its 2010 health goal of reducing high school smoking to 16 percent. They called in report for a resurgence of anti-smoking advertisements.

USA Today: New York became the first American city to require stores to post 4-square-foot warnings showing the physical effects of smoking near tobacco displays or smaller ones at each register. Last month, a few retailers and the nation’s three big tobacco companies sued the city to stop the posters.

Alcohol and Binge-Drinking

Journal Watch: Binge-drinking adolescents are 2.3 to 3.0 times more likely than non-bingers to continue this behavior into their 30s. Striking changes in brain morphology persisted even after alcohol cessation in monkeys exposed to alcohol.

Science Daily: Teens tend to increase their alcohol consumption in summer. Experts suggest parents monitor their children during summer breaks.

Cesar Fax: Of the sexually active high school students 22% reported that they used alcohol or drugs before their last sexual intercourse. Males are significantly more likely than females to report using alcohol or drugs prior to having sex.

Ecstasy and Marijuana

The Partnership: Last year Ecstasy use showed a 67 percent increase, and last year marijuana use showed a 19 percent increase, reversing a declining trend. Could decriminalization and medical marijuana be the reason?, high

Los Angeles Times: An estimated 555,000 Americans older than 12 have used Ecstasy in the last month. Ecstasy is a synthetic amphetamine that is been around for nearly 100 years. If you haven’t read about the death’s at the Los Angeles area rave EDC look here.

Addiction-brain effects – Tolerance, sensitization, and withdrawal

If you’ve been with us for any length of time, you’ve already read about the addiction-brain effects for specific drugs. I think it’s important to understand some of the more general changes that occur in the addicted brain regardless of the specific drugs used.

One of the most common effects of long term drug use is something called tolerance, or the reduced effect of a drug dose. A lot of people know about this one, especially if they’re users and have found themselves needing to use more and more to get the same effect. However, while this is the most known, it is not the only change in the body, or brain’s, response to drugs with repeated use. The other effect, known as sensitization, is characterized by the exact opposite reaction – an increase in the response to the drug.

Tolerance & Withdrawal in the addicted brain

toleranceThe exact mechanism by which tolerance occurs is different for each drug, but the overall concept is the same. With repeated drug administrations, the body adjusts its internal processes in an attempt to return to its initial level of functioning. Drug use normally causes greater quantities of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, the opioids, and adrenaline to be present in the drug user’s synapses (see here for a review). The body counters this by reducing its own release of these chemicals, reducing the numbers of receptors that can be activated by the neurotransmitters, and increasing functions known as “opponent processes” that are meant to counter their activity.

The interesting thing about tolerance is that by reducing the level of these important neurotransmitters, addicts are left with another, possibly more important effect, which is the loss of the addicted brain’s ability to respond to any reward, including natural ones like food, sex, enjoying a good football game, or anything else. Essentially, this sort of cross-tolerance leaves the addict less able to respond to rewards in general.

The reduced response to drugs, and the corresponding changes in the body and brain’s own functioning, have long been thought to be a major cause of addiction. The withdrawal that results once drug taking stops is closely linked to the development of tolerance. Still, we now know that tolerance and withdrawal are not necessary, and certainly not sufficient for the development of addiction. Nevertheless, they are referred to as the physical dependence portion of addiction and are often are part of the overall picture.

Sensitization

Sensitization is the term used for an increased response to the same dose of a drug. That might sound a little oxymoronic after the tolerance discussion we just had, but bare with me.

Tolerance commonly develops when drug use is constant, or ongoing. It’s an aspect of chronic, long-term, use. On the other hand, sensitization is likely to occur when a user engages in intermittent, binge-like, drug use happening either once daily, or with even greater spacing (as in once every few days) and in large quantities. When you combine chronic use with binge behavior, you can actually get both responses.

Sensitization to drugs has been shown for physiological responses like heart-rate, blood pressure, and movement in animals and humans. More importantly, sensitization plays a part in increasing the motivation for drug use. Just like sensitization increases the physical response to drugs, there is a corresponding increased response in the addicted brain in areas important for motivation (like the NAc and VTA for instance). If an addict responds more to their drug of choice after repeated use, it should come as no surprise that sensitization has also been hypothesized to play an important role in the addiction process.

Drugs cause brain changes that drive addiction

opponent processesWhen both tolerance and sensitization develop in someone who has been using drugs, they’re left with a reward system that is less responsive to rewards in general while being more responsive to the drugs they’ve been binging on and to cues (or triggers) that are associated with those drugs. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it is. If you’re an addict yourself, you don’t have to imagine this, you’ve lived it – A state where nothing seems rewarding without being high.

The problem is that both tolerance and sensitization are examples of changes in response to drugs that are completely outside of the control of the user. There’s no doubt that the average drug user doesn’t think about, or even recognize, that as they continue to use drugs, their body adjusts in multiple ways that can make it that much harder for them to stop use at a later point. It should be clear that this is not an issue for everyone – both tolerance and sensitization require repeated administration of drugs that are pretty close together. But they don’t require hundreds of uses, a few days with continuous, or intermittent use, are often enough to bring about these changes in the addicted brain.

We often hear that even the first hit of a drug can cause someone to be addicted. While there’s little doubt that even a single drug administration can change brain response in important ways, I can say with absolute certainty that using a drug repeatedly cause long-lasting changes in the brain chemistry that make future drug use more likely.

College students and binge drinking

Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as any pattern of alcohol consumption that brings an individual’s BAC (blood alcohol content) above .08 (the legal limit in most states). This equates to approximately 4-5 drinks for a man or 3-4 drinks for a woman within a 2 hour period.

In case some of you forgot, one drink is approximately a 1.5 oz shot OR 5 oz. of wine OR 12 oz. of beer.

College binge drinking norms

College students are one population in which binge drinking is prevalent. Prior to 18 years of age, students who end up not attending any college are most at risk for binge drinking. However, after 18 (the age when most people graduate from high school), students who attend a 4 year university become the population most at risk to binge.

So what is it about going to college that makes people want to drink more?

One important factor to consider is the way we portray college in the media. Television shows and movies often show binge drinking as the “normal” way college students consume alcohol (think beer bongs). This gives students unrealistic ideas of how much the average college students drinks. In fact, when asked how much most students drink in a typical drinking situation, students consistently overestimate how much their peers drink. This false norm creates an atmosphere where people are pressured to drink more than they normally would on their own.

The long-term consequences of binge drinking

Aside from the obvious impact of heavy drinking on health, binge drinking can lead to other very unpleasant outcomes. Among college students, students that drink heavily report higher incidences of regretted sex, sexual assault, riding with a drunk driver, loss of consciousness, and going to class hungover compared to those that drink moderately.

What can parents do?

Research has shown that parents continue to influence the choices their children make long after they leave for college. Parents can decrease the chances that their children will develop problematic drinking behaviors by doing two things: monitoring and modeling. Monitoring consists of asking a child where they are, what they are doing, and who they are interacting with. Modeling consists of setting a good example, communicating expectations, and transmitting values.

By remaining involved in their child’s life, parents may also indirectly influence who their child becomes friends with, which in turn influences their drinking behavior.

Citation:

Timberlake et. al (2007) Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research

Abar. C, Turrisi, R. (2008) How important are parents during the college years? A longitudinal perspective of indirect influences parents yield on their college teens’ alcohol use

Links of the week

Guess what? It’s that time again. Here are some posts by other writers that offer good help for addicts. I know I’ve been slacking on these, but I’ve simply had too many of my own cents to add. It happens often.

Trudging the gentle path: Being an atheist in recovery

Spiritual River: A new recovery eBook

Stop eating disorders: How to stop a binge

About.com: Signs of a relpase (I don’t necessarily agree with all of these, but it’s a good article)

Addiction Recovery Basics: Sign of addiction

That’s it for now, enjoy!

And don’t forget to click the title of the post for related articles on allaboutaddiction.com that offer addiction help!