In a 2011 study of 3,000 college students, Jennifer P. Read found that about 9 percent met the criteria for PTSD, with the disorder found to be most common among those exposed to sexual and physical assault, most of whom were women. (Credit: Michelle Ramírez/Flickr, font by Vernon Adams)

College drinking amps up PTSD, and vice versa

The estimated nine percent of college students who have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are likely to drink more alcohol than peers without the condition.

In turn, heavy alcohol consumption exacerbates their PTSD symptoms over time, prolonging a vicious cycle.

“College is a time of important developmental changes and a period of risk for heavy drinking, trauma exposure, and post-traumatic stress symptoms,” says Jennifer P. Read, associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo and principle investigator of the study.

“Heavy drinking is common on college campuses and related to risk for sexual assault, interpersonal violence, and serious injury, any of which may trigger PTSD,” says Read, who notes that although there has been an assumption that the two are mechanistically associated in the college population, until now, the nature of their relationship was unclear.

The study examined the relationships between PTSD and heavy drinking in 486 students as they transitioned into college and at 11 additional points over the following three years.

“We show that alcohol use and associated problems are linked over time to an exacerbation in PTSD symptoms, and that PTSD symptoms show a similar effect on alcohol consumption. Each affects the other. As such, both PTSD and heavy drinking are risk factors for one another, each with implications for the other over the course of college,” Read says.

“This information is useful and perhaps imperative for those who assist students dealing with these problems.”

In a 2011 study of 3,000 college students, published in the journal Psychological Trauma, Read found that about 9 percent met the criteria for PTSD, with the disorder found to be most common among those exposed to sexual and physical assault, most of whom were women.

A 2012 study by Read and colleagues found that the transition into college is marked by an escalation in heavy drinking, drug use, and use-related negative consequences, and suggested interventions that may help to ameliorate problem substance use and ultimately facilitate a stronger transition into college and beyond.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the latest study, which is published in the most recent edition of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Co-authors on the study, both in the University at Buffalo department of psychology, are Jeffery D. Wardell, doctoral candidate in clinical psychology, and Craig R. Colder, professor of clinical psychology.

Source: University at Buffalo

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