Stressor-Related Drinking and Future Alcohol Problems Among University Students

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Abstract

Research using daily designs has shown that daily stressors (i.e., conflict, school/work demands) are associated with alcohol use, and that the strength of within-person links between stressors and alcohol use differs from person to person. However, to our knowledge no research has tested whether individual differences in stressor-related drinking—characterized by within-person associations between daily stressors and drinking—predict risk for future alcohol problems, a relationship suggested by theoretical models. The current study used an Internet-based daily diary design among 744 university students to (a) examine the day-level relationship between stressors and alcohol use during the first 3 years of college, and (b) test whether individual differences in the stressor-drinking relationship, captured by person-specific slopes generated from multilevel models, predicted alcohol problems as measured by the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) in the fourth year of college. Results showed that students were more likely to drink on days with many versus fewer stressors, and on drinking days, students consumed more drinks with each additional stressor they experienced. Next, using individual multilevel modeling slopes as predictors, we found that students whose odds of drinking alcohol increased more sharply on high- versus low-stressor days (steeper slopes) had more severe AUDIT alcohol problems in the fourth year than students whose drinking odds increased less sharply (flatter slopes). Findings highlight the role of daily stressors in college student drinking and suggest stressor-related drinking as a risk factor for future alcohol problems.

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