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Richard Doty
IU Media Relations

Peter Finn
Department of Psychology

Last modified: Monday, March 31, 2003

IU psychologist studies mechanisms that lead to alcohol abuse by young people

Why young alcoholics seem insensitive to the negative consequences of their behavior is the subject of a five-year research study now under way at Indiana University Bloomington that includes a focus on college alcoholism.

Peter Finn, professor of psychology and director of the Biobehavioral Alcohol Research Laboratory at IUB, is directing the research supported by a grant of $1.3 million from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The project started in May 2002 and involves 500 men and women ages 18 to 25 who have alcohol abuse problems. Finn is interested in why people engage in self-destructive behaviors, and he has more than 15 years of alcohol research experience.

"The results of this study should provide valuable information about the mechanisms that lead to early-onset alcohol problems and also increase awareness of prevention and treatment efforts for early-onset alcohol problems," Finn said.

"We are looking at the mechanisms that may influence problems in self-control and poor decision-making that we see in young men and women with alcohol abuse problems," he explained. "Is it because they don't see the long-term effects or negative consequences of their behavior, or is it because they don't care?"

One aspect of the research addresses college drinking. "One aim of this project is to investigate the psychosocial mechanisms, such as affiliation with college fraternities and sororities, that distinguish non-antisocial alcoholism from antisocial alcoholism," Finn said. He believes that some undergraduates are generally more careful in their drinking, more responsible through actions such as use of a designated driver, and more aware of the problems that excessive drinking can cause. He said these individuals are less likely to be antisocial and less likely to develop serious problems with alcohol.

"However, there are other undergraduates who are clearly less careful and more impulsive in their drinking habits and appear unable, or unwilling, to regulate their alcohol intake. These undergraduates appear to demonstrate poor decision-making skills that affect a range of outcomes in their lives, not just alcohol abuse," he said. His research is aimed at trying to understand the factors that affect the poor decisions of those who develop alcohol problems as young adults.

The IU psychologist said there are many reasons why people become alcoholics. His study is focusing on individuals who are uninhibited and more out of control. "These tend to be the most difficult to treat, and they contribute to a majority of the overall costs of alcoholism," he added.

For more details, contact Finn at 812-855-9548 or