Genetic and environmental etiology of drinking motives in college students

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2022 Oct;46(10):1783-1796. doi: 10.1111/acer.14930. Epub 2022 Oct 18.


Background: Drinking motives are robust proximal predictors of alcohol use behaviors and may mediate distinct etiological pathways in the development of alcohol misuse. However, little is known about the genetic and environmental etiology of drinking motives themselves and their potential utility as endophenotypes.

Methods: Here, we leverage a longitudinal study of college students from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds (phenotypic N = 9889, genotypic N = 4855) to investigate the temporal stability and demographic and environmental predictors of four types of drinking motives (enhancement, social, coping, and conformity). Using genome-wide association study (GWAS) and in silico tools, we characterize their associated genes and genetic variants (single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs).

Results: Drinking motives were stable across four years of college (ICC >0.74). Some robust environmental predictors of alcohol misuse (parental autonomy granting and peer deviance) were broadly associated with multiple types of drinking motives, while others (e.g., trauma exposure) were type specific. Genome-wide analyses indicated modest SNP-based heritability (14-22%, n.s.) and several suggestive genomic loci that corroborate findings from previous molecular genetic studies (e.g., PECR and SIRT4 genes), indicating possible differences in the genetic etiology of positive versus negative reinforcement drinking motives that align with an internalizing/externalizing typology of alcohol misuse. Coping motives were significantly genetically correlated with alcohol use disorder diagnoses (rg = 0.71, p = 0.001). However, results from the genetic analyses were largely underpowered to detect significant associations.

Conclusions: Drinking motives show promise as endophenotypes but require further investigation in larger samples to further our understanding of the etiology of alcohol misuse.

Keywords: GWAS; alcohol misuse; college students; drinking motives; endophenotype.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Alcohol Drinking / genetics
  • Alcohol Drinking in College*
  • Alcoholism* / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism* / genetics
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Motivation
  • Students
  • Universities