Pattern of Alcohol Use Disorder from Adolescence to Adulthood

Many individuals who struggle with an alcohol use disorder developed their addiction during adolescent years. While many challenges arise during adolescence from an addiction to alcohol, the consequences can extend into the adult years.

A recent study examined the consequences of an adolescent onset and ongoing use of alcohol and dependence in men, looking at the adolescent risk factors and adult outcomes. The study was conducted by Brian M. Hicks, William G. Iacono, and Matt McGue of the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota.

Understanding that there is extensive research completed on the correlates of alcohol dependence, there was very little understanding of representative birth cohorts that have examined the results of an adolescent onset and persistent course of alcohol use disorder on a wide range of psychosocial variables.
The researchers used a longitudinal design with a community-based sample of 530 men. They investigated the impact of adolescent onset and persistent course of alcohol use disorder. Adolescent onset was defined as before the age of 17, and persistent course was defined as through the age of 29.
The impact of alcohol use disorder was examined on adolescent and adult functioning including substance abuse, antisocial behavior, mental health problems, and overall psychosocial functioning, among other elements.
The results revealed that the adolescent onset of alcohol use disorder was associated with severe problems across multiple types of psychosocial functioning in adolescence. Problems with behavioral disinhibition in adolescence led to a persistent problem with alcohol use disorder.
Almost 40 percent of the men who struggled with alcohol use disorder in adolescence were able to desist by age 29 and were similar in their functioning to men who had never experienced a problem with an alcohol use disorder. Men who initiated problems with alcohol in adolescence tended to have the most severe deficits in functioning.
The findings of this study highlight the significance of understanding the etiology of alcohol use disorder and the developmental course as an individual passes from adolescence into adulthood.
The study’s findings are encouraging to those who have struggled during adolescence with an alcohol use disorder, in that they may achieve the same level of functioning in society as those who have never struggled with alcohol.
The authors of the study suggest that future research focus on the relationship between alcohol use disorder and the impact that behavioral disinhibition and social environment variables may have on the continuation of an alcohol use disorder problem.