Researcher Develops Interventions to Address Alcohol Consumption in Young Adults and Couples

Professor Lindsay Rodriguez (front, center) with students who work in her lab and her dog.

Professor Lindsay Rodriguez (front, center) with USFSP students who work in her lab and her dog.

(May 30, 2019) – A USF St. Petersburg professor is researching how problem drinking affects romantic relationships in younger adults, and devising interventions that can help individuals and couples struggling with this addictive behavior.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 38 percent of full-time college students engage in binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks on an occasion. More than 10 percent engage in heavy alcohol use, binge drinking on five or more days in a month.

Through her research, Lindsay Rodriguez, Assistant Professor of Psychology, is hoping to construct a better understanding of the difficulties problem drinking can create, including disrupting romantic relationships through less quality time spent together, financial difficulties and increased conflict.

“My work focuses a lot on how those in a relationship communicate about the drinking. Many people don’t know how to bring it up, and often they don’t talk about it until it is already a problem,” said Rodriguez.

Whether the drinking is considered a problem by the partner is also important. Whereas 15 drinks a week may not be a problem for one partner, even three drinks a week could be a problem for another.

“Alcohol use disorder is viewed more along a spectrum now, not the old school version where either you are an alcoholic or you are not,” said Rodriguez. “When we think about college students and drinking problems, we define it by heavy drinking episodes or consequences they are experiencing as it relates to their drinking.”

One of Rodriguez’s current projects involves using personalized feedback to correct misperceptions around drinking. Using representative data from different campuses about alcohol consumption, Rodriguez works with students to identify common myths about student drinking to impact behavior for the better.

“People tend to overestimate how much others are drinking. For example, a regular drinker might estimate other college students drink on average 15 drinks a week, when in fact they drink four. Heavy drinkers overestimate even more, thinking the average student drinks maybe 20 drinks a week,” said Rodriguez.

By communicating objective information on how much peers actually drink, individuals are more likely to align their behavior with the norm.

“We don’t realize how important the influence of other’s actions is on our own behaviors,” added Rodriguez.

Another intervention involves guilt and expressive writing. Students are asked to write about a negative experience they had with drinking. By reappraising a traumatic experience involving intoxication and likely regret, students typically respond by wanting to do better for themselves and those closest to them.

Rodriguez’s passion for psychology and relationship issues began early. Once she realized – at the age of nine – there was a job where you could spend your days trying to understand human behavior, she never looked back. She was particularly fascinated with romantic relationships and why some last forever and others don’t.

This fascination with relationships and human behavior, which drove Rodriguez into the field and to focus on the impact problem drinking can have on relationships, continues to motivate her in finding ways to better treat this addictive behavior and communicate on the issue that improve one’s relationships.

“When people are lying on their deathbed, the number one regret people have is about the quality of their relationships,” said Rodriguez. “Relationships are the most important indicator of life satisfaction and happiness.”