Statistically derived patterns of behavioral economic risk among heavy-drinking college students: A latent profile analysis.


High levels of 3 behavioral economic indices (delay discounting, alcohol demand, and proportionate substance-related reinforcement) are consistently associated with greater alcohol misuse and alcohol-related problems. However, it is unclear whether and how these variables jointly increase the risk for alcohol-related outcomes among college students who engage in heavy episodic drinking (HED; 4/5+ drinks for women/men, respectively). The current study used a person-centered approach to identify similar patterns of behavioral economic domains among heavy-drinking college students and investigate the relationship between these empirically derived classes and alcohol-related outcomes. A sample of 393 college students (60.8% female, 78.9% White/Caucasian) reporting at least 2 heavy drinking episodes in the previous month completed measures of alcohol use and problems, demographics, delay discounting, and alcohol reward value (alcohol demand and proportionate substance-related reinforcement). Latent profile analyses revealed that a 3-class solution provided the best fit to the data: a low reward value, high discounting (LRHD) class (n = 53), a moderate reward value, low discounting (MRLD) class (n = 214), and a high reward value, high discounting (HRHD) class (n = 126). Members of the HRHD class reported significantly greater alcohol consumption, past-month HED episodes, alcohol-related problems, and symptoms of alcohol use disorder than those in the MRLD and LRHD classes. The results suggest that there are 3 constellations of behavioral economic processes and that, consistent with the reinforcer pathology model, students who overvalue alcohol-related reward and discount the future more steeply are at the greatest risk for alcohol misuse and alcohol-related problems. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved) Public Health Significance—The current study suggests that there are three distinct subgroups of college students defined by differing levels of delay discounting and alcohol reward value. The results from this study suggest that college students who discount the future more steeply and who have greater alcohol demand and proportionate substance-related reinforcement are highly vulnerable to experiencing alcohol-related harms, whereas students who only exhibit steep discounting may not be at risk. Concerted efforts should be made to reach this specific at-risk group. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

Publication Title

Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology