Maturing Out of Alcohol Use in Young Adulthood: Latent Class Growth Trajectories and Concurrent Young Adult Correlates
A new study study confirms that alcohol consumption rates do tend to decrease after college age, but only slightly – casting serious doubt over the concept of “maturing out”. On an individual level, it all depends on various factors such as the alcohol user’s social networks and personality.
It’s almost become a myth that people mature out of alcohol use in later adolescence and young adulthood,” said study author Michael Windle, chairman of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta.
The study examined more than 1,000 men and women and found that young adults tend to continue the alcohol use of their teen years – be it light, moderate or heavy alcohol use, although moderate and heavy alcohol users initially step up their alcohol consumption before slightly reducing it again later on in life. But the observed reductions in later 20s may owe less to “maturing out” and more to fewer new cases being diagnosed, according to the study.
The purpose of this study was to evaluate intraindividual variation in “maturing out” of alcohol use by using latent class growth trajectories of alcohol use from adolescence (age 17 years) through young adulthood (age 33 years).
The researchers also modeled trajectory group differences with regard to concurrent, age‐relevant domains of substance use, health (e.g., physical health rating, sleep problems), interpersonal functioning (e.g., conflict with partner), and occupational functioning (e.g., intrinsic motivation).
Growth mixture modeling was used with a sample of 1,004 adolescents/young adults, and 3 trajectory groups were identified as follows:
- a Normative Use group (n = 646) with low alcohol use remaining stable from adolescence to young adulthood;
- a Moderate Increase group (n = 300) with moderate alcohol use increasing slowly from adolescence to emergent adulthood (age 23 years) and then decreasing slightly from emergent adulthood to young adulthood (age 33 years); and
- a High Increase group (n = 58) with a high, increasing pattern of alcohol use from adolescence to emergent adulthood and then a small decrease in use from emergent adulthood to young adulthood.
At age 33 years, trajectory groups differed, with High and Moderate Increase groups differing significantly from the Normative Use group in current alcohol and other substance use and other risk factors (e.g., friends’ alcohol use).
Furthermore, the High and Moderate Increase groups differed from the Normative Use group on indicators of health (poorer sleep and more sleep problems), social functioning (higher partner and work–family conflict), and occupational functioning (lower intrinsic work motivation).
These findings suggest that trajectory group membership in alcohol use from adolescence to young adulthood is associated with the domains of substance use, health, and social and occupational functioning.
Both moderate and heavy alcohol users did lower their alcohol intake by age 33, but not by much. From about 24 to 29 years of age, heavy alcohol users cut back to an average 4.5 alcoholic drinks – down by just under a drink per day. Moderate alcohol users, meanwhile, had cut back only about 0.27 alcoholic drinks a day, to an average daily intake of 1.28.
And both groups were more likely to have health problems, as well as difficulties with relationships and work. Heavy alcohol users also were more likely to have friends who consumed alcohol heavily or used other drugs.
Furthermore, the findings suggest that maturing out applies primarily to a subset of those individuals at moderate to higher levels of alcohol use.
This study highlights that [alcohol use] behavior in adolescents, whether it be moderate or severe consumption, has been associated with multiple stressors later in life,” said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant chief of the adolescent inpatient unit at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks. N.Y. who reviewed the findings, as per Health Day.
This may result in conflict with relationships, within the family and the workplace.”