Research Reveals How Drinking Alone Foreshadows Future Alcohol Problems

According to a recent study, drinking alone when a teenager or young adult significantly raises the chance of developing an alcohol use disorder later in life.

According to recent studies, women in particular may be more at risk for developing an alcohol use problem later in life if they drink alone as adolescents and young adults.

According to a recent study, drinking alone when a teenager or young adult significantly raises the chance of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD) later in life. For women specifically, this risk is very high. The findings of the study from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence's July edition.

"The majority of young people who drink do so in social situations, but a sizeable portion of young people also drink alone. According to Kasey Creswell, main author and associate professor of psychology at CMU, solitary drinking is a distinct and significant risk factor for developing an alcohol use problem. "We observe a clear signal that drinking alone as a young person predicts alcohol issues in adulthood," the study's authors write. "Even after we control for well-known risk variables, such binge drinking, frequency of alcohol use, socioeconomic position, and gender."

An estimated 3 million fatalities globally each year are attributed to excessive alcohol use, which is a major global burden. While screening young individuals for harmful alcohol use is common, clinicians often ask about the frequency and amount of alcohol consumption. According to Creswell, the social setting in which young people consume alcohol is an essential but sometimes disregarded predictor of future alcohol abuse.

At the University of Michigan, Creswell worked with Yvonne Terry-McElrath and Megan Patrick to examine data from the continuing Monitoring the Future research, an epidemiological investigation investigating drug and alcohol use among American teenagers followed into adulthood. Surveys asking teenagers (age 18) about their habits of alcohol consumption and whether they drank alone received responses from roughly 4,500 of them. These individuals were then monitored for 17 years, providing details about their alcohol use, including information regarding drinking alone while they were young adults (ages 23 to 24), as well as reporting AUD symptoms as adults (age 35).

The findings showed that compared to peers who exclusively drank in social situations, adolescents and young adults who reported drinking alone were more likely to experience symptoms of AUD as adults. Numerous early risk factors for alcohol issues, such as binge drinking and regular drinking, were taken into account by the researchers. They discovered that young adults who drank alone had a 60% higher chance of developing AUD symptoms at age 35 than social drinkers, and that the risks were 35% higher for adolescents. Female adolescents who drank alone looked to be particularly at risk for later adult alcohol issues.

Around 25% of teenagers and 40% of young adults admitted to drinking alone. According to these findings, tailored interventions may be useful in educating and informing these groups—particularly young women—about the dangers of solo drinking in order to stop AUD from developing in the future.

Creswell and colleagues' prior research has demonstrated that young individuals drink alone as a coping mechanism for unpleasant feelings, which is a pattern of alcohol use that has been repeatedly related to the emergence of alcohol issues. Creswell pointed out that the epidemic has increased young people's lone drinking.

We may very possibly observe an increase in alcohol issues among the nation's youth, according to Creswell, as depression and anxiety due to the epidemic both rise concurrently.

Reference: Kasey G. Creswell, Yvonne M. Terry-McElrath, and Megan E. Patrick, "Solitary alcohol consumption in adolescence predicts alcohol problems in adulthood: A 17-year longitudinal study in a large national sample of US high school students," Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 11 July 2022.