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Examining interactions between genetic risk for alcohol problems, peer deviance, and interpersonal traumatic events on trajectories of alcohol use disorder symptoms among African American college students

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 September 2018

Jinni Su*
Virginia Commonwealth University
Sally I-Chun Kuo
Virginia Commonwealth University
Jacquelyn L. Meyers
State University of New York Downstate Medical Center
Mignonne C. Guy
Virginia Commonwealth University
Danielle M. Dick
Virginia Commonwealth University
Address correspondence and reprint request to: Jinni Su, Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Box 842018, Richmond, VA 23284-2008; E-mail:


Numerous studies have demonstrated that genetic and environmental factors interact to influence alcohol problems. Yet prior research has primarily focused on samples of European descent and little is known about gene–environment interactions in relation to alcohol problems in non-European populations. In this study, we examined whether and how genetic risk for alcohol problems and peer deviance and interpersonal traumatic events independently and interactively influence trajectories of alcohol use disorder symptoms in a sample of African American students across the college years (N = 1,119; Mage = 18.44 years). Data were drawn from the Spit for Science study where participants completed multiple online surveys throughout college and provided a saliva sample for genotyping. Multilevel growth curve analyses indicated that alcohol dependence genome-wide polygenic risk scores did not predict trajectory of alcohol use disorder symptoms, while family history of alcohol problems was associated with alcohol use disorder symptoms at the start of college but not with the rate of change in symptoms over time. Peer deviance and interpersonal traumatic events were associated with more alcohol use disorder symptoms across college years. Neither alcohol dependence genome-wide polygenic risk scores nor family history of alcohol problems moderated the effects of these environmental risk factors on alcohol use disorder symptoms. Our findings indicated that peer deviance and experience of interpersonal traumatic events are salient risk factors that elevate risk for alcohol problems among African American college students. Family history of alcohol problems could be a useful indicator of genetic risk for alcohol problems. Gene identification efforts with much larger samples of African descent are needed to better characterize genetic risk for alcohol use disorders, in order to better understand gene–environment interaction processes in this understudied population.

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Spit for Science: The VCU Student Survey has been supported by Virginia Commonwealth University; Grants P20 AA107828, R37AA011408, K02AA018755, and P50 AA022537 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; and Grant UL1RR031990 from the National Center for Research Resources and National Institutes of Health Roadmap for Medical Research. JLM is supported by Grant K01DA027914.


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