Having a sense of purpose in life can prevent binge drinking, study finds

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Heavy alcohol use is common among college students—and as a consequence, it puts young adults at risk for a wide range of health issues, from cardiovascular disease to cancer.

In a study from the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, scientists found that having a strong sense of purpose in life decreases the temptation to drink alcohol to excess among some social drinkers.

The team’s previous research has found that having a strong life purpose—the sense that your life is guided by personally meaningful values and goals—is linked to many health benefits, including easing the loneliness of COVID-19 isolation and reducing the effort it takes to make healthy choices.

In this study, the team charted the behavior and attitudes of 54 healthy college students, with daily surveys over the course of a month.

Once a day, participants answered questions about their current level of purpose in life—and every morning and evening they reported how much they craved and consumed alcohol.

The student volunteers also received fMRI brain scans, which gave a real-time picture of their brain activity while they were exposed to alcohol cues, like photos of beer, wine, and liquor or photos of people toasting at a party.

The researchers analyzed the participants’ brain activity within the ventral striatum, the area of the brain previously associated with reward and craving.

They found people whose brains showed greater activity when they saw alcohol cues—people with higher neural alcohol cue reactivity—were more likely to drink after craving alcohol.

When this data was matched with life purpose data, the team found something interesting:

These neurally sensitive drinkers did not necessarily drink more if they were feeling a strong life purpose when they craved alcohol. And if they felt less purposeful? They were more likely to drink heavily after a craving for alcohol.

This finding opens the door to discovering new strategies to discourage binge drinking in college students, especially those with higher neural cue reactivity, not by talking about drinking specifically, but by helping students focus on their mission, purpose, and values.

The team suggests that future research could test interventions used in other purposes in life and related studies—strategies like reflecting on what matters to you or making positive wishes for other people.

If you care about wellness, please read studies about the cause of long COVID ‘brain fog’, and fatigue, headache among top lingering long COVID symptoms.

For more information about wellness, please see recent studies that almonds may improve exercise performance, and results showing Omega-3 fats may lower risk of irregular heart rhythm.
The study was conducted by Yoona Kang et al and published in Addiction.

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