Web Interventions of Limited Use in College Students With Alcohol Problems, Depression
Statistically speaking, heavy alcohol consumers have an unusually high chance of developing serious problems with major depression or some other form of depressive illness. Since young adults enrolled in college have an unusually elevated level of alcohol intake, they may have intensified depression risks. In a study published in November 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from two American universities examined the potential usefulness of an Internet-based brief alcohol intervention in improving the outcomes for young adults enrolled in college who suffer from simultaneous problems with alcohol and depression.
Drinking and Depression
Depression and alcohol-related risk are interdependent problems. This means that a person affected by major depression or another depressive illness has a higher-than-usual chance of falling into a dysfunctional pattern of alcohol consumption. It also means that a person involved in a dysfunctional pattern of alcohol consumption has a higher-than-usual chance of developing depression symptoms. Several factors help explain this two-way connection. For example, a person who regularly drinks alcohol in excessive amounts may undergo chemical brain alterations that increase the odds of experiencing a temporary or lasting downturn in normal mood. Conversely, a person affected by temporary or lasting downturns in mood may regularly turn to alcohol as part of an attempt to “self-medicate” his or her unwanted/unpleasant mental state.
People who binge drink may have heightened depression risks. This dangerous pattern of alcohol consumption occurs whenever an individual consumes enough alcohol to meet or exceed the minimum standard for legal drunkenness in two hours or less. Unfortunately, young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 enrolled in college are the single most likely binge drinking participants in America. According to figures compiled by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, close to 50 percent of U.S. college students binge on alcohol at least once in the typical two-week timeframe.
Brief Alcohol Interventions
Brief alcohol interventions are short, targeted efforts designed to decrease the likelihood that a person involved in binge drinking or other harmful patterns of alcohol use will continue to drink in risky ways. They do not qualify as a form of standard alcohol treatment. Instead, these interventions help people affected by serious alcohol problems seek appropriate treatment or, alternately, help people at risk for such problems avoid the eventual need for treatment. A brief alcohol intervention starts with a screening procedure intended to separate people currently affected by diagnosable, problematic alcohol use from people at risk for diagnosable, problematic alcohol use. Once this division is made, the intervention proceeds with a single, concise counseling session or short series of sessions designed to educate the individual about alcohol-related risk and encourage an adoption of safer drinking behaviors and (when relevant) entry into a treatment program. Trained health professionals can conduct brief alcohol interventions in person or remotely through computer software.
Do Remote Interventions Help?
In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the University of Washington and Penn State University used a project involving 311 college-enrolled young adults to gauge the effectiveness of remotely administered brief alcohol interventions for college students simultaneously affected by alcohol problems and depression. All of the study participants had results on a standard screening procedure called AUDIT (the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test) that indicated the presence of problematic alcohol use or significant risks for problematic use. They also had results on a second screening procedure called the Beck Depression Inventory that indicated the presence of significant depression symptoms. In addition, all of the participants participated in binge drinking at least once in the month prior to the start of the study. Some of the students affected by problematic alcohol use received Internet-based brief alcohol interventions, while others did not.
The researchers concluded that participation in an Internet-administered brief alcohol intervention does not directly improve outcomes for college students only dealing with drinking problems or for college students dealing with a combination of drinking problems and depression. However, they also concluded that an Internet-based brief alcohol intervention can indirectly reduce the risks of subsequent serious drinking problems for those students affected only by relatively minor drinking problems and those students affected by relatively minor drinking problems and relatively minor depression symptoms.
Based on their results, the study’s authors believe that remotely administered brief alcohol interventions may have limited but tangible benefits for some college students affected by drinking problems or a combination of drinking problems and depression symptoms.