Spit for Science: The Beyond VCU Survey is a continuation of Spit for Science: The VCU Student Survey.
Researchers have always planned to follow up with the subjects across their college years and potentially beyond. The focus of this project will continue to be to understand how genetic and enviornmental factors contribute to problems associated with the use of alcohol, the use of other substances, and difficulties with emotional health. We know that behavior unfolds through a series of person-context interactions that lead to both negative and positive outcomes. To address this goal, we proposed the continuation of data collected with Spit for Science participants who are no longer enrolled at VCU. This will enable researchers to comprehensively and longitudinally study all past participants, assess a wide range of risk and protective factors. This includes biological susceptibility and environmental risk as well as a variety of outcomes measures (e.g., the use of alcohol, the use of other substances, and difficulties with emotional health). Our goal is to assess how risk and protective factors dynamically interact with mental health outcomes over time.
The aims and goals of the Beyond VCU Survey are synonymous with the aims and goals of the VCU Student Survey. These aims are to delineate how genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of problems associated with the use of alcohol, the use of other substances, and difficulties with emotional health. Just as Spit for Science: The VCU Student Survey annually (semi-annually for freshmen) follows up with past participants who are currently enrolled at VCU, the Beyond VCU follow-up protocol will be a continuation of those follow-up assessments with students who have left the university. By assessing participants who are no longer at VCU and comparing/combining their responses with previously collected Spit for Science data, the research team will be able to study person-environment interactions and how they impact various outcomes on alcohol use, substance use and emotional health issues.
We know there are multiple interacting contexts that contribute to substance use and emotional health. By studying interactions within and between risk and protective factors, we can understand whether certain protective factors can offset certain risk related factors or experiences. Extending data collection beyond VCU will allow us to see shifts in environmental contexts and measure how these changes may affect substance use and emotional health outcomes. Stressors and major life changes can make certain indivdiuals particularly vulnerable to the development of alcohol and other substance problems and emotional difficulties. However, we hypothesize that supportive environments will moderate these associations. The longevity of these effects can only be studied by continuing to collect data beyond an indvidual's time at VCU.
Environmental and social contexts present in college may be consistent throughout young adulthood, but they may change. Discontinuing college education, transferring to another university, or graduating will likely effect some degree of change in these social contexts. Measuring these factors in conjunction with changes in substance use and emotional health beyond the college years will inform the way in which the envronment in college and beyond may contribute to outcomes in adulthood. We know that many indivdiauls will mature out of their risky patterns of use as they near the end of emerging adulthood, which is due in part to new responsibilities such as marriage and parenthood. Personality traits that play a role in rates o substance use, such as impulsivity and neuroticism, have also been shown to shift from adolescence to early adulthood.
Patterns of early use such as those during college are highly influenced by environmental factors; however, as indivdiuals progress through development, their substance use is increasingly influenced by genetic predispositions. By examining these changes from the college years into adulthood, we hope to further understand the relationships between environmental and genetics factors that contribute to problems with alcohol use and emotional health.