The College Life and Alcoholism

For many young people, college is their first foray into freedom. Many go away to school and find they are unable to handle the independence and responsibility that comes with being out from under their parents’ supervision. In most cases, students have their fun during college, but by the time they graduate they have matured in the practices.

For others, however, what started as harmless fun becomes a struggle with addiction. Many college students, who go into their freshman year experimenting with alcohol, but leave their college years with alcohol use disorder, are caught in a difficult addiction to alcohol.

There are many factors that can create a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder, and one of the main ones is family history. Most research on family history, however, has looked only at the parental alcohol use. A study done in 2008 explored further family impact on drinking behaviors by looking at the density of family history of alcoholism.

The study used information from first-, second-, and third-degree relatives to determine whether family history of alcoholism was a risk for alcohol use disorder when the density of drinking behaviors was examined.

The researchers led by Christy Capone, a postdoctoral research fellow at Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction studies, recruited 408 undergraduate students from a northeastern university in the United States. The students were asked to take part in an anonymous survey for course credit during the 2005-2006 school year.

The study’s results, published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, showed that the greater number of relatives that an individual had with an alcohol addiction, the greater the potential of risk for developing an alcohol use disorder. This is the first study to examine how density of relatives with an alcohol use disorder can predict risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.

The research is important because identifying those with a dense family history of alcohol use disorder may be very helpful in targeting those with a potentially high risk for developing the disorder. However, Capone believes that intervention must start early: many students begin drinking long before entering the university.

In addition, when a student finds that they have a densely alcohol disordered family; they should be encouraged that it is only their risk of alcohol use disorder that is increased. There is not any guarantee that someone whose family struggles with alcohol use disorder will also develop the disorder. There should be focused attention on the personal choices an individual can make to avoid developing a problem.