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  • Characteristics of College Freshmen who Abstain from Alcohol ConsumptionM.K. Ginley1, C.S. Austad3, H. Tennen4, S.A. Raskin5 & G.D. Pearlson1,21Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center, Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital, Hartford, CT, 2Dept. of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, 3Dept. of Psychology, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, CT, 4University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington, CT, 5Dept. of Psychology and Neuroscience Program, Trinity College, Hartford, CT

    -Adolescents report abstinence rates between 14% and 20%5,6,7.

    -Alcohol use research tends to focus on differences between alcohol using samples. Alcohol abstinence is often an exclusion criterion in such research; or alcohol abstainers are combined with light/social drinkers.

    -Operational definitions of alcohol abstinence also vary among studies; former drinkers abstinent at the time of study participation are often combined with lifetime abstainers. This may introduce sick-quitter bias. For example, previous studies have found that mortality risk for former drinkers compared to lifetime abstainers is 44% higher for women and 21% higher for men4.

    -Children of alcoholics within college populations may be at increased risk for alcohol related problems. There is inconsistency in the research when applied to college populations because college samples tend to self select for only the most successful children of alcoholics3.

    -A cluster of behaviors subsumed by impulsivity/ disinhibition /sensation seeking/externalizing is associated with drinking more frequently, in greater quantities, and with more negative consequences1.

    -Alcohol may be used to manage anxiety, for social purposes, or to deal with unpleasant emotions2.

    -Adolescent lifetime alcohol abstainers are a distinct subcategory and need to be assessed separately from their alcohol consuming peers.-Alcohol abstainers will demonstrate lower levels of impulse expression, reward anticipation, and sensation seeking then their drinking peers.

    -In a sample free of sick-quitter bias, alcohol abstainers will have underlying issues of social alienation and anxiety correlated with their lack of alcohol use.

    -Alcohol using participants may have confounding risk factors such as a family history of alcoholism, family risk factors, and relatively many life stressors.884 college freshmen (47% male) between the ages of 18 and 25 (M: 18.27, SD: 0.631) were recruited on a voluntary basis from an ongoing NIAAA-funded study of two demographically distinct colleges in Connecticut (the BARCS Study).

    Measures of cognitive testing, academic grades, genetics, alcohol and drug use assessments, and psychiatric diagnoses were obtained for all subjects. Presence of a psychiatric diagnosis did not result in study exclusion as we hoped to obtain a representative sample.

    145 subjects were classified as alcohol abstainers (who self-reported a lifetime maximum consumption of zero alcohol-containing drinks in any 24-hr period). 225 subjects were social drinkers (who drank, but had not binged in the last 30 days). 514 subjects were classified as binge drinkers (females who reported consuming 4 drinks, and males who reported consuming 5 drinks in a single drinking episode within the last 30 days).

    Note there is a slight variation of N per measure as completion of every study measure was not required for inclusion in the study. Social Support (Figure 2)Impulsivity Measures(Figure 3)-Our sample contained comparable levels of abstinence to those reported in the literature (16%).

    -Even in a sample not confounded with sick-quitters alcohol abstainers represent a unique research subcategory with distinct characteristics.

    -Alcohol abstainers were more inhibited than their drinking peers (Fig. 3).

    -Alcohol abstainers were similar to socially drinking peers on indicators of punishment sensitivity and impulsivity, but had significantly stronger aversion responses than binge drinkers (Fig. 3).

    -Alcohol abstainers had lower levels of drive and fun seeking compared to drinking peers. For reward responsiveness, less of a true impulsivity measure and instead an assessment of positive responsiveness to reward, no significant findings were observed (Fig. 3).

    -Participants with lifetime abstinence showed higher levels of social alienation and lack of social support from friends compared to their drinking peers (Fig. 2).

    -Variables typically viewed as confounders, including a family history of alcoholism or having grown up in a chaotic family environment did not play a significant role in distinguishing abstainers from their drinking peers (Fig. 1).

    -Alcohol use and life events stressors do yield significant group effects. However, due to the correlational nature of these data, one cannot say conclusively whether the alcohol use is leading to increased life stressors (or lack of use is acting protectively in the abstainers), or if increased stress felt by the binge and social drinkers leads them to turn to alcohol as a means to cope with increased anxiety (Fig. 1). Funded by RO1 AA016599 (BARCS Study) and RC1 AA019036 to Dr. Godfrey Pearlson.1. Brennan, A.F., S. Walfish, and P. AuBuchon, Alcohol use and abuse in college students. I. A review of individual and personality correlates. Int J Addict, 1986. 21(4-5): p. 449-74.2. Kushner, M.G. and K.J. Sher, Comorbidity of alcohol and anxiety disorders among college students: effects of gender and family history of alcoholism. Addict Behav, 1993. 18(5): p. 543-52.3. MacDonald, R., M.F. Fleming, and K.L. Barry, Risk factors associated with alcohol abuse in college students. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse, 1991. 17(4): p. 439-49.4. Rehm, J., et al., Are lifetime abstainers the best control group in alcohol epidemiology? On the stability and validity of reported lifetime abstention. Am J Epidemiol, 2008. 168(8): p. 866-71.5. Samson, H.H., C.O. Maxwell, and T.F. Doyle, The relation of initial alcohol experiences to current alcohol consumption in a college population. J Stud Alcohol, 1989. 50(3): p. 254-60.6. Huang, J.H., et al., Sociodemographic and psychobehavioral characteristics of US college students who abstain from alcohol. J Am Coll Health, 2009. 57(4): p. 395-410.7. Knight, J.R., et al., Heavy drinking and alcohol policy enforcement in a statewide public college system. J Stud Alcohol, 2003. 64(5): p. 696-703.**: p.01 * :p.05Note: Significant difference notations utilize abstainer group as control

    **: p.01 * :p.05Note: Significant difference notations utilize abstainer group as control

    **: p.01 * :p.05Note: Significant difference notations utilize abstainer group as control

    MeasureNCore Concept AssessedBIS-BAS863Reward AnticipationBIS-11882Response InhibitionZuckermans Sensation Seeking Scale884Sensation SeekingFamily History of Alcohol/Drug Use Questions667

    Potential Confounding Factors Risky Family Assessment (Taylor)762Life Events Scale for Students (Clements & Turpin)765Measures of Perceived Social Support from friends and family (Procidano)773Social Support

    Examples of Reasons Given for Abstinence-Illegal-Drinking doesnt correspond with religious beliefs-Unhealthy-Friends and/or family members dont drink-Family histories of negative consequences of alcohol use-Dislike smell

    Brain and Alcohol Research in College Students (aka BARCS Study )Mascot