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

Men and women are not the same: Sex differences in addiction research

You may not have realized it, but men and women are different. Really.

When ot comes to drugs, men and women are differentThough the statement may seem like the most unnecessary, obvious, expression since the dawn of time, it’s surprising how rarely the importance of these differences comes up when we talk about addiction. Still, there’s little doubt that if our hormones, brain development, and even our reaction the to exact same stories aren’t the same, the way we react to drugs, or to addiction treatment, are likely gender specific as well. In fact, while men are almost twice as likely to meet criteria for addiction, women seem to move from casual use to addiction more quickly. Let’s explore some addiction research findings that may tell us why.

Social stress, drug use, and addiction

If you’ve gone through high-school, you know that boys and girls have different sort of social interactions. Women develop tightly knit cliques that aim to protect them from being fully ostracized while keeping out those who may cause trouble within the fold.

Indeed, when researchers compared cocaine using men and women, they found much greater neural activation in the drug-seeking brain regions of women during social stress (things like exclusion, being put down, and such) than were found for men or for women who didn’t use drugs. Similar findings have been reported for a neuroprotective hormone called DHEAS, which was found to be lower in women and in cocaine addicts, signaling their increased vulnerability to stress-induced immune problems. It’s hard to tell which came first, but social stress “triggered” these women’s systems a lot more than it did men. And the differences change behaviors too – Research in monkeys found that while male monkeys used more cocaine if they were “losers” (lower on the social ladder), female monkeys who were “leaders” were found to use more cocaine when given a chance.

Obviously, social standing and events mean different things, and bring about different reactions to drugs, for men and women.

Drug use, the brain, and gender

Not only do men and women act differently when it comes to drugs, but differences have been found in the specific brain changes associated with drug exposure between the sexes!

Research in rats has shown that brain changes following prenatal (before birth) exposure to cocaine are different between males and females and that they interact with exposure to social stimulation. In humans, researchers found differences in brain volume, and its association with early trauma, emotional, and physical, neglect between boys and girls at risk for substance abuse problems. Other work found that the prenatal cocaine exposure was more greatly associated with memory problems in women than men.

Sex (gender) and drugs – the takeaway

So, men and women are not the same. Not a big surprise I know, but the specific ways in which the two sexes react to the intake of drugs and the differences in their responses to stress that may motivate them to use at different times can become important factors to consider both in prevention AND in addiction treatment setting. For instance, it seems that we’d want to look at the possibility that drug prevention efforts should look at social-standing among adolescents when determining might need the most attention. Also, if exposure to drugs affects the brain differently in the different sexes because of differences in the concentration of protective hormones, it’s possible that the specific aspects of treatment that require focus might be different too.

Some food for thought…

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”

What makes the 12 steps (and other social support groups) a good part of addiction treatment aftercare?

I’m not a devout 12-step believer, though I think that AA and the offspring programs have some serious merit, especially when it comes to addiction treatment aftercare. In this discussion, I’m talking about all group-support based programs, including Smart Recovery and others. I’m personally a fan of non-religious groups, but that’s just me.

Chronic conditions require long term care

I’ve already talked about my view of addiction as a long-term, chronic condition. Regardless of the “disease” moniker, I think it’s undeniable that, at least for some people, addiction treatment needs to continue long past their initial “quitting” phase, regardless of whether they went through an inpatient or outpatient treatment (or quit alone at home).

Without getting hung-up on my misgivings about 12-step programs (I have a few), I’d like to talk about some of the factors that make me believe in the system as a continuous aftercare resource:

  1. It’s free – Most people, especially given current insurance limitations, can’t afford ongoing outpatient help be it through a psychologist or an addiction-treatment provider. While the latter two are can be superior in their knowledge about recent developments in addiction, they cost money.
  2. It normalizes behavior – One of the difficulties many addicts share is in talking to non-addicts about their problems. They feel ashamed, misunderstood, or judged. Being with like-minded individuals can eliminate some of those issues. Nevertheless, people often find understanding only regarding the specific issue a program deal with and therefore find they need to attend many different support groups to address all their issues.
  3. It provides ongoing support outside of meetings – The social connections people make in meetings can often help them outside the rooms. Your psychologist isn’t likely to do the same.
  4. It keeps the focus on relevant issues – When following the 12 step rigorously, one is always working on bettering his/her program. That sort of attention can help catch problems early on before they develop into real difficulties.
  5. It keeps people busy – Some addicts need to stay occupied to keep out of trouble, especially in the transition from their acute treatment back to everyday life. Attending social-support meetings can make the time go faster while providing a relatively safe social environment.

Even with all these advantages, I can’t help but object to some of the AA dogma, especially when it comes to religion and to the unwavering resistance to adapt their system as it was handed down in the late 30s. We’ve learned a lot since and I think 12-Step programs could benefit greatly by incorporating recent knowledge. In fact, reviews of studies regarding the effectiveness of AA find it no more useful than other interventions overall. This is why I believe that 12-Step programs are best used along with, and no instead of, additional treatment options.

Citation:

Cochrane Review – Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programmes for alcohol dependence

Social anxiety and drugs: A lesson about addiction from monkeys.

If you ever doubted the idea that monkeys are über similar to humans, read this:

A number of researchers at Wake Forest University school of Monkeys do love their bananas!Medicine looked at the social organization in 4 groups of monkeys. They then took either a dominant or subordinate monkey and put it in a cage next to a group of unfamiliar monkeys. The monkeys couldn’t hurt each other, but they could yell and scream, which they did, creating an emotionally stressful situation for the lone monkey.

After this stressful event, the researchers gave the monkey a chance to relax, human style: They were brought back to their normal housing and allowed to pull either on a lever that gave them food, or a lever that gave them a dose of cocaine. Want to guess what happened?

The subordinate monkeys were giving themselves a lot more cocaine than they had been before the stressful event, while the dominant monkeys were giving themselves less.

Brain scans during the event itself showed that the dominant monkeys showed increased activation in the brain’s pleasure regions but the subordinate monkeys showed less activation in stress and anxiety management areas. Sounds like a typical high-school bullying scene, the dominant monkeys were actually enjoying the fight! It was the socially inferior monkeys that were becoming stressed out.

What this teaches about addiction

The study supports the idea that stress can increase the tendency to do drugs, especially in those that are less able to protect against it.

The researchers caution that in humans, there are many more stressors than social rank. That’s definitely true, but try telling that to a high-school student…

About addiction: Weed, early recovery, teens and alcohol, and robotripping

We started this thread last week and I’m going to do my best to keep it up. Here are some links you may find useful on other blogs:

The Addiction News Network – Brain damage in young adults who smoke weed

Spiritual River – The usefulness of social support in early recovery

Breaking the Cycles – A great post about talking to your children about alcohol

Recovery Basics – Robotripping (Or Roboing as we used to call it) is apprently coming back

I hope you enjoy those as much as I did.