Study: Teens Who Drink Alone More Likely to Develop Drinking Problems in Adulthood

Dec 2, 2013

The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21, but as many people who’ve gone through high school and who are familiar with pop culture know, kids finds ways around that all the time.

A new study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh finds that teens that do their drinking alone may be at greater risk for alcohol problems later in life.

“Most adolescents who drink alcohol do so in social settings,” said lead author Kasey Creswell. “Drinking alone can be considered a distinct form of alcohol use among teens given that the vast majority of teens who drink alcohol are doing so with their friends.”

The study found that teens who drink alone tend to drink more than their peers, and are more susceptible to heavy drinking and alcohol problems later in life. Solitary teen drinkers are also more likely to imbibe in response to negative emotions such as sadness, anger or loneliness.

“Our findings really suggest that it might be important to identify these kids as being especially vulnerable to heavy drinking and to development of problems later in life,” Creswell said.

For the study researchers surveyed 709 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 at the Pittsburgh Adolescent Alcohol Research Center. They were asked to report on their alcohol use over the one year period before the interview. When the participants turned 25 they were asked again about their alcohol use and were assessed for alcohol use disorders. The results showed 38.8 percent of teens in the sample reported drinking alone. Solitary drinkers were one and a half times more likely to develop alcohol dependence by age 25.

“This is one study,” Creswell said, “so I do want to stress that it’s going to be important to replicate these findings before we jump to too many conclusions regarding treatment implications. But based on our finding solitary drinking does seem to be an early warning signal and it does suggest that these kids might benefit from learning more adaptive coping strategies.”

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Clinical Psychological Science.