Stress-Related Drinking in College Linked to Future Alcohol Problems

August 24, 2017:Mike Russell

Many people consume alcohol at the end of a stressful day, but there are questions about the long-term consequences of this type of drinking. In a new article in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Methodology Center Investigator Michael Russell and his collaborators David Almeida and Jennifer Maggs analyzed intensive longitudinal data (ILD) from a daily diary study to determine what links may exist between stress-related drinking and future problems with alcohol use.

The authors analyzed data from the University Life Study (PI: Jennifer Maggs), which collected daily diary data on 744 college students during the first four years of their university education. Using multi-level models, the authors examined the relationship between stress and drinking in daily life across more than 49,000 days (totaling all days from all students), comparing students’ likelihood of drinking on high-stress days to their likelihood of drinking on low-stress days. The authors found that, compared to themselves, students were somewhat more likely to drink on a high-stress day than on a low-stress day, but that this likelihood varied greatly between students. Next, they examined how an individual’s tendency to drink when he/she is under increased stress might impact the likelihood that he/she may have indicators of a drinking problem later in college. The authors found that students whose drinking was more reactive to stressors—that is, students whose drinking increased more sharply on high- versus low-stress days—were at greater risk for alcohol problems during their fourth year of college than students whose drinking was less reactive to stressors.

This article demonstrates how within-person slopes from multilevel models, which characterize the relationship between dynamic factors such as stress and drinking for each individual, can be useful in predicting risk for public health-relevant outcomes, such as risk for alcohol problems in university students. Future research is needed to determine whether interventions focusing on stress management could help reduce rates of problem drinking in young adult populations.

Open the article. (Journal access required.)


Russell, M. A., Almeida, D., & Maggs, J. L. (in press). Stressor-related drinking and future alcohol problems among university students. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

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