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Study links resilience with reduced risk for alcohol use disorder

December 15, 2016
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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Individuals who showed stronger resilience were found to be less at risk for developing alcohol use disorders in a study recently released by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden.

In the study, which was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research earlier this month, the resilience of more than 1.6 million Swedish males between the ages of 17 and 25 was graded using assessments developed by the Swedish military.

The assessment “was designed to predict an individual’s ability to cope with stressful situations, such as those that an individual might experience in a combat situation,” says the study’s first author, Elizabeth Long, a fourth-year PhD student in the psychiatric, behavioral and statistical genetics program at the VCU School of Medicine’s Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics. “The goal of it was to reflect the level of adaptation in everyday life. That’s consistent with the idea of resilience.”

Individuals within the study population with an alcohol use disorder were identified using medical, criminal and pharmacy registries.

Participants’ functioning in various settings and their emotional stability were rated on a nine-point scale, with a higher score indicating better functioning. Results showed that social maturity, interest, psychological energy, home environment and emotional control all reduced the risk for subsequent alcohol use disorder. A one-point increase in resilience was found to reduce the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder by 29%, although once a certain level of resilience was reached, the reduction of risk for alcohol use disorder leveled off.

The study also included 5,765 pairs of twins, and found the relationship between resilience and alcohol use disorder to be not causal but instead due to shared overlapping genetic and environmental influences.

“The same genes and environmental influences that contribute to an increase in resilience also contribute to decreased risk for alcohol use disorder,” Long tells Addiction Professional.

Long went on to say that by understanding that similar genes and environmental influences are involved with preventing alcohol use disorder and having a high level of resilience, researchers have a starting point for future studies that can lead to improved prevention efforts, such as developing coping skills and a strong support system.