Impulsive College Women at Risk of Drinking Problems: Study

THURSDAY Nov. 8, 2012 -- Female college students who act impulsively when they're distressed are at increased risk of developing a drinking problem, a new study suggests.

Alcohol dependence puts college women at danger for a number of negative consequences, including poorer school performance and increased risk of sexual assault, accidental injury and even death, according to the researchers.

The study included 319 women (235 drinkers and 84 nondrinkers) in their first semester at a large university in the southeastern United States. The participants' drinking behavior, alcohol dependence symptoms and impulsive behavior traits were assessed by the researchers, and the students were followed for three months.

Negative urgency (a trait in which a person tends to act rashly when having negative emotions) and lack of deliberation (a trait in which a person acts without thinking) both predicted increases in alcohol dependence symptoms in the college students, the study authors found.

The largest increase in alcohol dependence symptoms was seen in women who had high negative urgency and said they wanted to drink to change their emotions (either to enhance positive feelings or get rid of negative feelings), according to study corresponding author Monika Kardacz Stojek, a graduate student in the department of psychology at the University of Georgia, and colleagues.

The study was released online Nov. 8 in advance of publication in the February print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The findings could help female college students stay safe, Stojek suggested.

"It seems that women who know that they tend to act without thinking when they are upset should be aware that they might be more at risk for negative consequences from drinking if they impulsively drink while in that negative mood," she said in a journal news release.

That idea was supported by Gregory Smith, a research professor and director of clinical training at the University of Kentucky.

"College women should learn to plan ahead when they go drinking in order to reduce their risk for problems," Smith said in the news release. "Women who tend to get impulsive when distressed should seek training from mental health professionals on effective ways to avoid impulsive actions that prove harmful. Parents and college administrators should not underestimate the risks associated with heavy drinking during the college years."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about college health and safety.

Posted: November 2012


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