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Drinking Solo During Adolescence Can Indicate AUD Later in Life

— August 5, 2022

When teens and young adults are drinking alone, this could be a predictor of future alcoholism.

A new study from Carnegie Mellon University has found that drinking alcohol alone in one’s adolescent years is a strong predictor for the later development of an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Researchers conducted a substantial longitudinal study that followed high school students over the course of 17 years. They ultimately reported that solo drinking in adolescence and early adulthood was associated with binge drinking and AUD at 35 years of age. The risk was especially high for females. Their findings were published online in the July 11 edition of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“Drinking alone is a red flag for young people, and it is predictive of future alcohol problems above and beyond other well-established risk factors, like binge drinking, frequency of alcohol use, socioeconomic status, and male gender,” said lead author Kasey G. Creswell, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. “In fact, the odds of 18-year-old women having alcohol use disorder symptoms at age 35 was 86% higher than for teens who reported drinking only in social settings. For 18-year-old men, it was only 8% higher. So, we really need to pay attention to young women who are drinking alone.”

Drinking Solo During Adolescence Can Indicate AUD Later in Life
Photo by Monstera from Pexels

Most standard alcohol screening tools contain questions about frequency of drinking and quantity of drinking, but “one underappreciated risk factor for the development of problematic drinking is the social context in which adolescents and young adults consume alcohol,” Creswell added. “Most young people who drink alcohol only do it with their friends in social settings, at parties, and so on. Some researchers have even said social use of alcohol among young people is a marker for social well-being, but when young people are drinking alone, that’s where we think the problem lies.”

The AUDIT, or Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, is commonly used to screen for alcoholism and not only asks about frequency of use but whether the person completing the test has had blackouts, has been told to quit drinking by loved ones, has been unable to fulfill obligations and feels guilty about his/her drinking. Unfortunately, tests like the AUDIT use a rating scale based on a user’s self-reported behaviors and is it possible for the person completing the test to underreport.

For the current study, the investigators analyzed data from the “Monitoring the Future (MTF)” report, an ongoing epidemiologic study of drug and alcohol use in adolescents and adults. They discovered that “annually, since 1975, the MTF study has surveyed nationally representative samples of approximately 15,000 twelfth-grade students from public and private U.S. schools,” the article states.

In general, research has long shown that drinking alone can be an indicator that a person is becoming addicted to alcohol. It has become a commonly used marker to signify AUD. Those who are alcoholic tend to spend a lot of time engaging in hiding behaviors related to drinking, not only hiding how much they are consuming and how often, but how much time is devoted to retrieving and consuming alcohol discretely as well as discarding alcohol bottles. When a young person is already knee-deep in this vicious cycle, they are likely to prefer drinking alone and it is possible they are engaging in risky drinking behaviors associated with problematic consumption.


A New Predictor of Problem Drinking in Early Adulthood

Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test

Solitary alcohol use in adolescence predicts alcohol problems in adulthood: A 17-year longitudinal study in a large national sample of US high school students

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