Alcohol Use Across the Lifespan
- In recent years, a great deal of research has been conducted on the trajectory of alcohol use. Now we know that, as with other developmental phenomena, alcohol use follows a normative course across the life span. Of course, there is individual variability, but alcohol consumption commonly increases in the late teens, peaks during the early 20s, and then decreases during the mid to late 20s when individuals transition into adulthood. However, not much attention has been paid to the factors underlying the alcohol consumption trajectories, i.e., looking at the reasons why people decide to use alcohol and not just at how much they use. Researchers from the University of Michigan and Pennsylvania State University investigated developmental changes associated with alcohol consumption behaviors. They found that factors that motivate people to use alcohol also follow a developmental trajectory, such as that seen with the amount of alcohol they consume. What this tells us is that some of the motivating factors for alcohol consumption become more prevalent or more rare as individuals mature. In particular, as individuals transition into adulthood, they experience residential and social changes.
Reasons for Alcohol Consumption
The researchers conceptually grouped 14 factors involved in the consumption of alcohol into 5 categories:
1) Social/recreational: to get high, to have a good time with my friends, to fit in with a group I like, and/or because of boredom
2) Coping with negative situations: to relax, to get away from my problems, and/or because of anger or frustration
3) Compulsive use: to get through the day and/or because I’m hooked
4) Drugs: to increase or decrease the effect of other drugs
5) Miscellaneous: to seek deeper insights and understandings, to get to sleep, and/or because it tastes good
Changes in Alcohol Consumption
According to this study, there are a number of factors that cause a change in alcohol consumption as young people transition into adulthood:
1) The majority of reasons decreased in prevalence with increasing age. As people grow older they drink less because they have fewer reasons for drinking.
2) The chief reasons for using alcohol, other than to fit in, were social/recreational.
3) The prevalence of compulsive reasons to drink and use drugs decreased with age.
4) The use of alcohol to relax, to sleep, and because it tasted good increased significantly with age.
5) Men were more likely than women to endorse using alcohol to get high, to fit in, because of boredom, because they were hooked, to increase the effects of other drugs, and to seek insight and to sleep.
6) Women were more likely than men to report using alcohol to get away from problems and because of anger/frustration.
Some researchers believe that having this information can potentially help create developmentally appropriate intervention programs for people with alcohol abuse problems. What do you think?
Patrick, M.E., Schulenberg, J.E., O’Malley, P.M., Maggs, J.L., Kloska, D.D., Jhonston, L.D., Bachman, J.G. (2011). Age-related changes in reasons for using alcohol and marijuana from ages 18 to 30 in a national sample. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Vol25 (2), 330-339.