Research: Stronger Links Between Interpersonal Trauma and Alcohol Use for Women than Men

November 4, 2015


• Pre-college interpersonal trauma predicts greater first semester alcohol use for female students.
• College-onset interpersonal trauma predicts greater concurrent and future alcohol consumption for female students.
• Associations between interpersonal trauma and alcohol use may be more salient for women than men.
• Almost 25% of college women endorsed interpersonal trauma during the first two years of college.

Many people assume that trauma causes people to drink more, but until now that has actually not been clearly demonstrated in the research literature.

In a recent issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors, co-authors Seung Bin Cho, Ph.D., a Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Psychiatry postdoctoral fellow, and University of Virginia Department of Pediatrics assistant professor Erin Berenz, Ph.D., utilized data from the Spit 4 Science research project to illuminate relationships between trauma before and during college and alcohol consumption.

The authors analyzed data from three cohorts of undergraduate students (N=1,197) who participated in a longitudinal university-wide study of alcohol use and emotional health at Virginia Commonwealth University. Participants completed assessments at year one fall, year one spring, and year two spring semesters.

Researchers found that women who reported a history of sexual or physical assault prior to college already drank more frequently and more heavily at their year one fall semester compared to their peers. Furthermore, even after accounting for a prior history of assault, young women who experienced a new assault during college reported an acute and long-term increase in their alcohol use.

The authors did not find this pattern of findings for male students, indicating that young men and women may be affected differently by assault. Given that heavier alcohol use is a risk factor for sexual assault, as well as alcohol use disorders, it is important to evaluate prevention programs geared towards decreasing alcohol use in female assault survivors.

Read the full article via Addictive Behaviors here.