Study finds resilience protects against risk for developing alcohol use disorders

December 7, 2016 by Anne Dreyfuss

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

Concern with potential rise in super-potent cannabis concentrates

July 21, 2017
University of Queensland researchers are concerned the recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia may give rise to super-potent cannabis concentrates with associated harmful effects.

Findings link aldosterone with alcohol use disorder

July 18, 2017
A new study led by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates that aldosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, may contribute ...

Depression among young teens linked to cannabis use at 18

July 17, 2017
A study looking at the cumulative effects of depression in youth, found that young people with chronic or severe forms of depression were at elevated risk for developing a problem with cannabis in later adolescence.

Why does prenatal alcohol exposure increase the likelihood of addiction?

July 7, 2017
One of the many negative consequences when fetuses are exposed to alcohol in the womb is an increased risk for drug addiction later in life. Neuroscientists in the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions are ...

Researchers say U.S. policies on drugs and addiction could use a dose of neuroscience

June 23, 2017
Tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year – around 50,000 in 2015 – and the number has been steadily climbing for at least the last decade and a half, according to the National Institute on Drug ...

Study provides further support for genetic factors underlying addictions

June 13, 2017
Impairment of a particular gene raises increases susceptibility to opioid addiction liability as well as vulnerability to binge eating according to a new study.


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.