Category: Couples / Close Relationships
Between the ages of 18 and 25 Many emerging adults pursue a higher education and move away from home for the first time. With increased responsibility and independence, things such as alcohol use and romantic relationships are no longer closely monitored by parents and become viable options for emerging adults to freely explore. When there are problems with relationship satisfaction and drinking behaviors they often lead to poor mental health outcomes. While both problem drinking behaviors and poor relationship satisfaction have been shown to be associated with depressive symptoms, no study has examined how these two constructs may influence one another.
Using a pre-registered design and a large sample of undergraduate students in college (N=1409), we investigated associations between problematic alcohol use and relationship satisfaction over time. Using a cross-lagged stability model with depressive symptoms as a mediator, we found that relationship satisfaction directly predicted a small yet significant increase in problematic drinking behaviors (β=.08, 95%CI [.03, .13]), but drinking behaviors did not predict relationship satisfaction (β=.003, 95%CI [-.05, .05]).
Most of the variance in the relationships between relationship satisfaction and problematic drinking behaviors occurred through the mediator of depressive symptoms. Both problematic drinking and poor relationship satisfaction predicted an increase in depressive symptoms (β = .14, 95%CI [.09, .19]); β =.17, 95%CI [.12, .23]), and depressive symptoms predicted increased problem drinking behaviors and decreased relationship satisfaction (β =.14, 95%CI [.09, .18]; β =.11, 95%CI [.06, .16]). Thus, 20% of the effect of relationship satisfaction on drinking was explained via depressive symptoms.
The effects were similar when comparing men and women with the exception that men were more protected from developing depressive symptoms if they had high relationship satisfaction than women were (β = .27 95%CI [.15, .39]; β = .15 95%CI [.09, .21]).
College presents emerging adults with unique opportunities and challenges that effect students’ psychological wellbeing. By understanding the links between poor relationship satisfaction, problem drinking behaviors, and depression, CBT clinicians will be more equipped to cater their interventions to best help people have more positive mental health outcomes in this unique setting.
(The full preregistration can be found at this URL: osf.io/ttf3c )