Role of impulsivity in the relationship between depression and alcohol problems among emerging adult college drinkers

Depression is common among college students and higher levels of depression are associated with greater alcohol-related problems. However, depression is frequently not found to be directly associated with more alcohol use. This study examined whether various aspects of impulsivity (negative urgency, lack of premeditation, lack of perseverance, sensation seeking, and delay discounting) and drinking to cope with negative affect help to account for the relationship between depression and alcohol problems among emerging adult college drinkers who reported at least a minimal level of depressive symptoms. In this cross-sectional study, 143 emerging adult (between 18 and 25 years old) female (69.9%, n= 100) and male (30.1%, n = 43) college drinkers with at least minimal depressive symptoms completed measures of depression, alcohol use and problems, drinking to cope, and impulsivity. A multiple mediation analysis revealed that only negative urgency and drinking to cope partially mediated the depression-alcohol problems relationship. Moderated mediation analyses revealed that impulsivity-related constructs did not significantly interact with drinking to cope to increase alcohol problems.It appears that alcohol use is particularly problematic for students with elevated depression, and this is partly attributable to depression’s association with negative urgency, in addition to its association with drinking to cope. Our findings suggest that students who suffer from depression may engage in problematic drinking behavior in part because negative affect is detrimental to their short-term impulse control and decision making, independent of maladaptive attempts to regulate affect through drinking to cope.

Keywords: depression; alcohol problems; drinking to cope; delay discounting; impulsivity




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