Response to alcohol, peers, expectancies, contribute to adolescent drinking

A study has found that a low level of response (LR) to alcohol is one of several genetically influenced characteristics that may increase an individual”s risk for heavy drinking and alcohol problems.

The study has confirmed key elements of a LR-based model of risk through examination of a large sample of adolescent boys and girls in the United Kingdom, moving beyond smaller U.S. based samples and to younger subjects.

“The effect of a low LR on later heavier drinking actually occurs through a process of a series of steps,” Marc A. Schuckit, distinguished professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and corresponding author of the study, explained.

“One, an individual is likely to consume the amount of alcohol needed to achieve desired effects; two, if more alcohol is required for such effects, they are likely to drink more per occasion.

“Three, the low LR contributes to association with peers who are likely to have a similar response to alcohol and who, therefore, consume similar higher doses of alcohol per occasion; four, a person”s low LR and the influence of similar peers is likely to affect what one should expect from alcohol during a drinking session.

“And five, the low LR, peer influences, and more positive alcohol expectancies [collectively] encourage using alcohol to cope with life problems,” he said.

This process contributes to the likelihood of drinking heavily, Schuckit said, which increases the risk for alcohol problems.

Schuckit and his colleagues evaluated data on 1,905 17-year-olds (1,063 females, 842 males) that were generated through the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a study that began in 1991 to prospectively follow children born to 14,541 pregnant women in Avon, England between April 1991 and December 1992.

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LR was measured with the Self-Rating of the Effects of Alcohol Questionnaire (SRE), outcomes were based on drinking quantities and problems, and standardized questionnaires were used to evaluate peer substance use, alcohol expectancies, and using alcohol to cope with stress.

“Our findings demonstrate that the LR model used in the U.S. also worked very well in another country such as the U.K.,” Schuckit said.

“We also clarified that the LR model that works with 18- to 20-year-olds also works very well with 12-, 14- and 16-year-olds.

“Third, the LR model that we have used in other papers is here represented in a very large sample, thus, the results are not haphazard; this is a big sample with large statistical power,” he stated.

The findings, which will be published in the October 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, are currently available at Early View.

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