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PTSD Symptoms Tied to an Increased Risk of Drinking in College

Update Date: Jan 14, 2014 11:13 AM EST
Drinking, Alcohol, college
When the alcohol buying age was lowered to 18 in December 1999, the number of assaults that occurred in young males between the ages of 15 and 19 spiked. (Photo : Wiki Commons)

Even though social drinking might be a norm for some students in college, researchers have found that certain factors increase people's likelihood of drinking. According to a new study, researchers reported that students dealing with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to drink alcohol. The excessive drinking could then worsen their PTSD symptoms, which can lead to more drinking.

"College is a time of important developmental changes and a period of risk for heavy drinking, trauma exposure and post-traumatic stress symptoms," stated Jennifer P. Read, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo and lead researcher of the study reported by Medical Xpress. "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."

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Read and colleagues examined 486 students when they first entered college and then at 11 different points spread throughout three years. The team focused on the relationship between PTSD symptoms and drinking. They discovered that alcohol consumption worsened PTSD symptoms over time. At the same time, PTSD symptoms appeared to affect drinking consumption. The researchers reported that this vicious cycle in which one factor drives the other and vice versa could lead to very dangerous outcomes.

"This information is useful and perhaps imperative for those who assist students dealing with these problem," Read added.

In a 2011 study headed by Read, she reported that out of the 3,000 college students in her sample, nine percent could be diagnosed with PTSD. In another one of Read's study, she reported that transitioning over to college could be a huge contributor to the development of bad habits, such as heaving drinking and drug use. Based on the findings from all three studies, the researchers believe that intervention and prevention programs are vital in promoting healthy behaviors.

The study, "Reciprocal Associations Between PTSD Symptoms and Alcohol Involvement in College: A Three-Year Trait-State-Error Analysis," is available via the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

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