Study finds resilience protects against risk for developing alcohol use disorders

December 7, 2016 by Anne Dreyfuss, Virginia Commonwealth University

Resilience considerably reduces risk for developing alcohol use disorders, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden.

Substantial literature from the past few decades has investigated personality traits that are influential in the development of use disorders, but little attention has been paid to protective traits that guard against it.

"Studying protective factors rather than just what makes people at risk for something can inform prevention studies," said first author Elizabeth Long, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Psychiatric, Behavioral and Statistical Genetics Program at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine's Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics. "From these results, we can focus on how we improve resilience in children to prevent them from developing alcohol use disorder later in life."

The study, "Resilience and risk for alcohol use disorders: A Swedish twin study," was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research on Dec. 5.

In the context of the study, resilience was defined as an individual's ability to thrive despite adversity. Resilience was assessed on a 9-point scale during personal interviews with 1,653,721 Swedish men aged 17-to-25 years.

"Our sample size was massive, which led to increased precision," Long said.

The 9-point scale rated individuals' functioning in experiences at school, work and home, and during leisure time. It also examined emotional stability, with higher values indicating better functioning. Alcohol use disorder was identified based on Swedish medical, legal and pharmacy registries.

Results of the study showed the five items that comprised the resilience assessment—social maturity, interest, psychological energy, home environment and emotional control—all reduced risk for subsequent alcohol use disorder, with social maturity showing the strongest effect. A one-point increase on the resilience scale was associated with a 29 percent decrease in odds of developing alcohol use disorder.

"This study puts on firm scientific footing the common clinical observation that individuals with mature and well-balanced personalities are much less likely to develop than individuals who are less stable and more stress-prone," said Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., professor of psychiatry and human and molecular genetics in the Department of Psychiatry at VCU School of Medicine. Kendler is Long's faculty advisor and a co-author on the journal article. "This work is a wonderful example of cross-institutional collaboration," he added. "Key to its success has been the extraordinary registry resources assembled by our collaborators in Sweden."

While the study findings confirmed Long's hypothesis that resilience would negatively correlate with alcohol use disorder, she said she was surprised by how large of an effect it had. Further, the personality trait had a quadratic effect: "Once you reach a certain point on the resilience scale, the protective effect doesn't keep going down," Long said. "That indicates that you just have to function 'well enough' to experience the protective benefits of resilience against alcohol use disorder development."

The study also included 5,765 twin pairs. It found the relationship between resilience and alcohol use disorder to be largely attributable to overlapping genetic and shared environmental factors. The twin-based findings suggest the relationship between resilience and is not causal, but can be better explained by common genetic and environmental influences on drinking behavior.

"If we understand that similar genes are involved in protecting against alcohol use disorder and having increased , then we have a place to look for the shared genes," Long said. "That opens the door to further studies. Ultimately, the goal is to improve prevention efforts."

Explore further: Study finds marriage protects against risk for developing alcohol use disorders

More information: Elizabeth C. Long et al. Resilience and Risk for Alcohol Use Disorders: A Swedish Twin Study, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research (2016). DOI: 10.1111/acer.13274

Related Stories

Study finds marriage protects against risk for developing alcohol use disorders

May 17, 2016
Marriage is causally related to a significant reduction in risk for development of alcohol use disorders, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden.

Heredity is a major factor in ADHD, binge eating and alcohol dependence

September 6, 2016
It is principally hereditary factors that lead to adults with ADHD developing alcohol dependence and binge eating. This is the conclusion of a doctoral thesis from Linköping University. Since heredity plays such a large ...

Kids with bipolar disorder more likely to abuse drugs, alcohol: study

September 16, 2016
(HealthDay)—For some teens with bipolar disorder, the risk that they will abuse alcohol and drugs may increase as they get older, a new study suggests.

Marijuana smokers five times more likely to develop an alcohol problem

February 17, 2016
Adults who use marijuana are five times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD) —alcohol abuse or dependence— compared with adults who do not use the drug. And adults who already have an alcohol use disorder ...

What causes the excess rate of death associated with alcohol use disorders?

April 20, 2016
To what degree does the excess rate of death in individuals with alcohol use disorder (AUD) happen because of a predisposition in the person who develops AUD compared with the direct effect of the AUD itself?

Significant pain increases the risk of opioid addiction by 41 percent

July 22, 2016
What do we really know about the relationship between the experience of pain and risk of developing opioid use disorder? Results from a recent study - the first to directly address this question—show that people with moderate ...

Recommended for you

Marijuana use may not aid patients in opioid addiction treatment

December 4, 2017
Many patients who are being treated for opioid addiction in a medication-assisted treatment clinic use marijuana to help manage their pain and mood symptoms.

For opiate addiction, study finds drug-assisted treatment is more effective than detox

November 23, 2017
Say you're a publicly insured Californian with an addiction to heroin, fentanyl or prescription narcotics, and you want to quit.

Study finds medical cannabis is effective at reducing opioid addiction

November 17, 2017
A new study conducted by researchers at The University of New Mexico, involving medical cannabis and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients, found a distinct connection between having the legal ability to use ...

Insomnia linked to alcohol-use frequency among early adolescents, says new psychology study

November 8, 2017
Insomnia is linked to frequency of alcohol use among early adolescents, according to new Rutgers University–Camden research.

Large declines seen in teen substance abuse, delinquency

October 25, 2017
More than a decade of data indicates teens have become far less likely to abuse alcohol, nicotine and illicit drugs, and they also are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as fighting and stealing, according ...

Trying to get sober? NIH offers tool to help find good care

October 3, 2017
The phone calls come—from fellow scientists and desperate strangers—with a single question for the alcohol chief at the National Institutes of Health: Where can my loved one find good care to get sober?


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.