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Undergrads' Drinking Patterns May Predict Future Abuse

FRIDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- College students who are heavy drinkers may be more likely to continue their unhealthy drinking habits after graduation if they have high levels of impulsivity and aggression, according to a new study.

The study included 265 female and 96 male undergraduates who completed an anonymous online survey that asked about their drinking patterns and personality traits. About 6 percent of the participants met criteria for alcohol dependence, and about 31 percent met criteria for alcohol abuse.

After graduation, most college students "mature" out of heavy drinking, but some will continue to abuse alcohol and be at risk for alcohol-related problems, the researchers noted in the study, which appears online and in the January 2012 print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Many, if not most, undergraduate college students reduce their level of drinking after they graduate from college and are no longer in the environment that led to their drinking," corresponding author Cheryl L. Beseler, a researcher at Colorado State University, said in a journal news release.

"Some of the reduction is motivated by having to take on adult responsibilities, such as employment and starting a family," Beseler explained. "However, some young adults continue to drink at levels that increase their risk of an AUD (alcohol-use disorder). We do not yet understand why this occurs, but probably the reasons include genetic and personality factors and interactions between them." For that reason, they assessed some potentially relevant aspects of personality and family history in their study.

"Our most interesting finding is that we found two groups of college students who drank at fairly high levels but one group was more inclined to drink to feel better, more impulsive and more aggressive than the other group, which also drank a lot of alcohol," she said.

The students who are more impulsive and aggressive are more likely to continue heavy drinking after they finish school.

"If a college student knows they drink to make things more fun, is impulsive, and has a history of aggressive behavior, they may want to monitor their drinking," Beseler said. "If a parent knows his or her child possesses these traits, they should be aware of the risks these personality traits might pose if their child is drinking too much. Additionally, those who treat alcohol problems in young adults may want to screen for these behaviors in their patients."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about college drinking.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, Oct. 14, 2011

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