DEPRESSION, DRINKING TO COPE, AND ALCOHOL-RELATED PROBLEMS IN YOUNG ADULTS

Michael G. MacLean, State University of New York College at Buffalo, R. Lorraine Collins, E. T. Morsheimer, and James R. Koutsky, Research Institute on Addictions.

Drinking for social reasons and for positive affect enhancement are motives strongly associated with alcohol consumption in young adults. Conversely, depression and drinking as a means of coping with problems and negative affect have not been consistently linked with drinking behavior in this population. However, alcohol consumption (drinking frequency and typical amount consumed per occasion) and alcohol-related problems have been shown to be two distinct, although related, dimensions (r = .30 - .60) and therefore may have different predictors. In the present study, we predicted that depression and drinking to cope would be only modestly related to alcohol consumption but would be strongly predictive of alcohol-related problems. Furthermore, we predicted that drinking to cope would moderate the relationship between depression and alcohol-related problems, with depression being more predictive of problems at higher levels of drinking to cope. Participants were a community sample of 245 women (n = 129) and men (n = 116) between the ages of 18 and 20 years (M = 19.06, SD = .79). Despite being under the legal drinking age, participants reported consuming an average of 16.7 drinks per week. Alcohol-related problems were assessed using the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index, depression symptoms were assessed using the Beck Depression Inventory II, and drinking to cope motives were assessed using the Drinking Motives Questionnaire.

A series of multiple regression analyses were conducted to test the hypotheses. In the first regression model, depression and drinking to cope motives were entered in Step 1 and the interaction term was entered in Step 2, with alcohol consumption (average number of drinks per week) as the dependent variable,. This model was not significant (R2 = .02, p = .18). A similar model was run with alcohol-related problems as the dependent variable and this model was significant (R2 = .18, p < .001). Both depression (beta = .12, p < .002) and drinking to cope (beta = .20, p < .001), but not their interaction term (beta = -.05, p = .43), significantly predicted alcohol-related problems. Finally, to control for drinking level effects in the prediction of alcohol-related problems, alcohol consumption was entered in Step 1, with depression and drinking to cope entered in Step 2, and the interaction term entered in Step 3. Alcohol consumption was a significant predictor (beta = .06, p < .001), with the betas for depression, drinking to cope, and the interaction term changing very little. The R-square for this final model was .30 (p < .001).

The results of the present study are consistent with previous studies of young adults in that depression and drinking to cope were not significantly associated with alcohol consumption. However, these variables appear to be strong predictors of experiencing alcohol-related problems, accounting for 18 percent of the variance alone and 30 percent of the variance when combined with alcohol consumption. Depression and drinking to cope may prove to be useful markers in determining which young adults will experience problems related to their drinking. Lastly, contrary to our predictions, the hypothesis that drinking to cope would moderate the relationship between depression and alcohol-related problems was not supported in the present sample.