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J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2008 Nov;69(6):814-23.

A serotonin transporter gene polymorphism (5-HTTLPR), drinking-to-cope motivation, and negative life events among college students.

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  • 1Department of Community Medicine, MC 6325, University of Connecticut Health Center, 263 Farmington Avenue, Farmington, Connecticut 06030-6325, USA.



This study was performed to examine whether a polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) in the serotonin transporter gene was related to college students' reports of relief drinking (drinking-to-cope motives) and whether it moderated the associations between negative life events and drinking to cope. We examined reward drinking (drinking-to-enhance motives) as a comparison and to see whether these effects varied across gender.


Using an Internet-based survey, college students (N = 360; 192 women) self-reported on drinking motives and negative life events for up to 4 years. Study participants provided saliva for genotyping the triallelic (LA vs LG or S) variants of 5-HTTLPR.


Among men, individuals with two risk alleles (LG or S), compared with individuals with the LA/LA allele, displayed lower drinking-to-cope motives. Among women, individuals with one risk allele (either LG or S), compared with individuals with the LA/LA allele, displayed stronger drinking-to-enhance motives. The association between yearly changes in negative life events and drinking-to-cope motives varied across 5-HTTLPR genotype and gender and was strongest in the positive direction for women with the LA/LA variant.


Our findings are not consistent with prior speculation that stronger positive associations between life stress and alcohol use among individuals with the LG or S allele are the result of increased use of alcohol as a method for coping with stress. The importance of examining gender differences in the relations between 5-HTTLPR, substance use, and related constructs is also noted.

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