The Development of Drinking Trajectories Among Australian Young Adults
The present study compares alcohol use trajectories for two cohorts of adolescents and young adults, 10 years apart, to assess whether recent declines in adolescent alcohol use in Australia represent fundamental shifts in typical alcohol use behavior.
Six waves of annually collected, longitudinal responses from two cohorts of adolescents and young adults ages 15–25 in 2001 (n = 1,436, 48.3% male) or 2011 (n = 2,520, 48.1% male) were acquired from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey (HILDA). Latent class growth analysis was used to determine the best fitting alcohol use trajectories for both cohorts.
Four quadratic classes were identified for the earlier cohort, and three linear for the more recent one. Light/ abstaining, moderate/moderate-steady, and heavy alcohol use classes were observed in both cohorts, whereas an additional moderate-increasing class in the earlier cohort was absent from the recent one. The two lowest trajectories (light/abstaining and moderate/moderate-steady) appeared relatively stable across cohorts, despite an increase in light/abstaining alcohol use in the recent cohort, whereas the heaviest alcohol users consumed substantially less in the recent cohort than the earlier one.
This study found reduced consumption across alcohol use patterns, suggesting that youth alcohol use declines are not attributable to significant shifts in alcohol use behaviors; rather, adolescents and young adults are using alcohol in a similar, albeit significantly lower, fashion. The stability of these trajectories, and the continuation of these declines into adulthood, suggest that reductions in alcohol-related harm may be likely for recent cohorts across their life course.