Background: The low level of response (LR) to alcohol is a genetically influenced characteristic associated with an enhanced risk for alcohol use disorders (AUDs). An optimal understanding of how this intermediate phenotype relates to the AUD risk requires evaluation of the milieu in which LR operates, and this study tested an LR/social information processing model in adult men.
Methods: Almost 300 Caucasian males (97% of those eligible, to date) from the San Diego Prospective Study participated in an alcohol challenge at approximately age 20 and were evaluated with a structural equation model regarding their expectations of the effects of alcohol, drinking among peers, use of alcohol to cope with stress, and alcohol-related problems during follow-up.
Results: The direct paths in the structural equation model in these 40-year-old men explained 58% of the variance of the alcoholic outcome at age 40 and 35% at age 35 while demonstrating good fitness characteristics. The LR to alcohol was related to the family history of AUDs and to the alcoholic outcome; the latter primarily operated through the use of alcohol to cope with stress. Although drinking in peers and expectations of the effects of alcohol both contributed to the model in these 40-year-old men, they were not directly related to LR.
Conclusions: The results continue to support the importance of the low LR to alcohol as a predictor of AUDs, even when evaluated in the context of additional relevant characteristics. Future evaluations of adolescent and young adult subjects will also explore the potential importance of expectations of the effects of alcohol and drinking among peers as mediators or moderators of alcoholism risk among subjects with a low LR.