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Does family history of alcohol problems influence college and university drinking or substance use? A meta‐analytical review

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Aims  Family history of alcohol use problems is a reliable determinant of alcohol use and problems in the population at large, but findings are inconsistent when this issue is examined in college and university students. No quantitative summary of this literature has been reported to date. The purpose of this study was to conduct a meta‐analysis on the effects of family history on substance use and abuse in college and university students.

Methods  A two‐group contrast meta‐analysis was conducted to evaluate the differences in substance use and abuse between family history‐positive and ‐negative students pursuing higher education. The studies that contributed data to this meta‐analysis were conducted in five countries, with the majority of studies from the United States. A total of 65 published papers (53 samples) contributed data from 89 766 participants attending university or college. Effect sizes were coded for alcohol consumption, problems and use disorder symptoms, as well as other illegal drug use and abuse. Two independent coders calculated effect sizes and coded descriptive content about the papers, and discrepancies were reconciled. Family history was used as the grouping variable.

Results  Family history had a minimal effect on alcohol consumption, with stronger effects on alcohol consequences (Cohen's d: 0.21–0.25), alcohol use disorder symptoms (Cohen's d: 0.24) and other drug involvement (Cohen's d: 0.37–0.86).

Conclusions  Relative to students without a family history of alcohol problems, students with positive family histories do not drink more, but may be at greater risk for difficulties with alcohol and drugs.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Center for Health and Behavior, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, USA 2: Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

Publication date: October 1, 2012

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