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Affective factors explaining the association between depressive functioning and alcohol outcomes among college students

Studies show approximately 60% of college students have drank in the previous 30 days and 30-35% may experience at least mild depressive symptoms. Due to these findings, campuses could benefit from knowing more about the mediators between depressive functioning and alcohol use and outcomes. The current study attempts to find if the indirect relationship between depressive symptoms and drinking outcomes is mediated by three specific mechanisms (need for affect, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation).

Participants were recruited from a large public university and had to be between 18-25 years old and reported one heavy-drinking episode in a normal week. The survey was administered online, and it asked about demographics, depressive symptoms, alcohol use, alcohol problems and the three mechanisms. The first mechanism, need for affect, was broken down into approach and avoidance. Distress tolerance was measured with a 5-point Likert scale with higher scores meaning greater ability to handle psychological distress. Finally, emotional regulation was measured also using a 5-point Likert scale with higher scores showing increased ability in emotional regulation. The final sample consisted of 227 undergraduate students with an average of 12.77 standard drinks during a normal week.

Researchers found depressive symptoms were positively correlated with alcohol consequences and negatively associated with all three mediators. Need for effect was found to mediate associated between depressive symptoms and alcohol quantity and emotional regulation mediated the relationship between depressive symptoms and alcohol-related problems. This study provides important findings about how different functioning mechanisms may be associated with depressive symptoms and their link to drinking. It is important when providing interventions to college students to take these mechanisms and their potential effect on students into consideration.

Take Away: The current study attempts to find if the indirect relationship between depressive symptoms and drinking outcomes is mediated by three specific different mechanisms. Undergraduate students were recruited between 18- 25 years and reported one heavy-drinking episode in a normal week. They completed online surveys about depressive symptoms, alcohol use, and the three mechanisms. Researchers found that depressive symptoms were positively correlated with alcohol consequences. They also found need for effect mediated depressive symptoms and alcohol quantity while emotion regulation mediated depressive symptoms and alcohol-related problems. This study provides important findings about how different functioning mechanisms may be associated with depressive symptoms and their link to drinking.

Preonas, P. D., & Lau-Barraco, C. (2019). Affective factors explaining the association between depressive functioning and alcohol outcomes among college students. Journal of American College Health, 1–7. doi: 10.1080/07448481.2019.1683565

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