Depressive Symptoms as Predictors of Alcohol Problem Domains and Reinforcement Among Heavy Drinking College Students


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Abstract

Heavy drinking among college students in the United States is common and results in a wide range of problems. Symptoms of depression are also common among college students and may exacerbate problems associated with heavy drinking, but to date most studies have been cross sectional and relied on an aggregate measure of alcohol problems. Further, depressive symptoms may also predict other elements of risk among heavy drinkers, including greater experience of substance-related reinforcement, and diminished experience of substance-free reinforcement. The current study examines depressive symptoms as a prospective predictor of changes in alcohol problem domains and reward variables in a sample of heavy drinking college students. Heavy drinking college students (N = 138) completed a survey assessing depressive symptoms, alcohol problems, and reinforcement at baseline and after a 12-month follow-up period. Multiple regressions examined the utility of depressive symptoms (DASS-21) in predicting alcohol problems, substance-related reinforcement, and substance-free reinforcement at the 12-month follow-up after controlling for baseline drinking level and the baseline level of the relevant outcome variable. Baseline depressive symptoms predicted 12-month alcohol problems related to impaired control (i.e., drinking more than planned), self-perception, and self-care. Depressive symptoms also predicted lower 12-month substance-free, but not substance-related, reinforcement. Finally, change in depressive symptoms was associated with total alcohol problems, impaired control, self-perception, self-care, academic/occupational, and physiological dependence problems at 12-month follow-up. Heavy drinkers with depressive symptoms may benefit from interventions targeting alcohol problems that also increase access to and engagement in rewarding alternative activities.

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