Alcohol consumption during this developmental period

Last Updated: 26 Jan 2021
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Alcohol is one of the most commonly used drugs worldwide, and when used excessively it has deleterious effects on almost every organ system.  Many people begin to drink alcohol during adolescence and young adulthood.

Alcohol consumption during this developmental period may have profound effects on brain structure and function. Heavy drinking has been shown to affects on brain structure and function.

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Heavy drinking has been shown to affect the neuropsychological performance of young people and may impair the growth and integrity of certain brain structures. Furthermore, alcohol consumption during adolescence may alter measures of brain functioning, such as blood flow in certain brain regions and electrical brain activities. Not all adolescence and young adults are equally sensitive to the effects of alcohol consumption, however.

Moderating factors-such as family history of alcohol and other drug use disorders, gender, age at onset of drinking, drinking patterns, use of other drugs, and co-occurring psychiatric disorders-may influence the extent to which alcohol consumption interferes with an adolescent’s normal brain development and functioning (Tapert, Calwell, & Burke, 2004-2005).

Emerging adulthood, the transitional period between high school and young adulthood, is marked by the formation of identity, the establishment of more mature interpersonal and intimate relationships, and the transition to new adult-type roles. It is also is a time of increased alcohol use and abuse, which can have long-term effects on both physical and psychological well-being and may have implications for the attainment of traditional adult roles.

Gender, race/ethnicity, marital status, college, employment, peer and family influences, individual temperament, and attitudes about drinking all influence drinking behavior in this population.

Attending college may represent a special risk to emerging adults, as increases in alcohol availability and acceptance of drinking on college campuses may lead to increases in heavy drinking among students.

The non student population of emerging adults also is an important target for preventive interventions, especially because people in this segment of the population may be less likely to mature out of heavy drinking patterns established during adolescence, thus, the transition from high school to young adulthood appears to be an ideal developmental turning point during which to target interventions.

Arnett (2000) referred to the transitional period from high school to young adulthood as “emerging adulthood.” This stage of life is defined as the period from the end of secondary school through the attainment of adult status (Arnett 2005), covering approximately ages 18 to 25, although it can extend longer. Emerging adulthood is marked by frequent change and exploration. It also is a period of increased alcohol use and abuse. The transition out of high school may be marked by increases in alcohol use and intoxication.

Even men who drank heavily in high school may drink more and become intoxicated more often after high school. Drinking patterns during the senior year of high school generally are useful in predicting post-high school drinking behavior, although research results vary. Some studies have found a high degree of individual stability in problem drinking from the early twenties into adulthood, whereas others have not

Most emerging adults will outgrow heavy drinking and related problems before adulthood, on their own and without treatment (Marlatt et al. 1998). Research consistently shows that most indexes of alcohol use, and especially heavy drinking, are higher among males than females (O’Malley and Johnston 2002).

In addition, the gender disparity in heavy drinking increases between late adolescence (i.e., senior year of high school) and young adulthood. In contrast, the rates of alcohol problems among male and female college students tend to converge (Jackson et al. 2005), although men still report more problems in the public domain compared with women.

Racial and ethnic differences in drinking and related problems have been documented in the literature. In general, White and Native American emerging adults drink more than African Americans and Asians, and drinking rates for Hipics fall in the middle. In addition, in contrast to the peak in drinking among Whites around ages 19-22, heavy drinking among African Americans and Hipic peaks later and persists longer into adulthood (Caetano and Kaskutas 1995).

Some argue that the college campus environment itself encourages heavy drinking (Toomey and Wagenaar 2002). Alcohol use is present at most college social functions, and many students view college as a place to drink excessively. Students experience greater exposure to drinking and encounter higher levels of peer drinking and positive attitudes toward alcohol as they transition from high school to college.

Alcohol is the drug of choice among adolescents in the United States. Slightly over 50% have tried alcohol as early as grade 8; by the end of high school, 80% have tried it and 50% are current drinkers. These statistics cause concern because adolescents are particularly susceptible to several of the negative consequences associated with drinking-motor vehicle crashes (Zador, Krawchuk & Voas 2000), sexually transmitted diseases (Bailey et al. 1999), suicide, death and disability.

Many observers believe that alcohol advertising contributes to the widespread social acceptability of drinking and thereby fosters both initial and continued use. Television advertising, which is banned in the United States for cigarettes but not for alcohol, is cited as a major source of alcohol advertising available to young people.

Large numbers of American youth are exposed to television advertisements for alcohol, particularly beer (Grube & Wallack 1994). Young people typically see these advertisements on sports and certain late night programs popular with youth (Madden & Grube 1994).

Youth exposure to advertising in additional venues, as well as through other promotional activities, is also substantial (Taylor 1990). In the United States, most young people are exposed to alcohol advertising in such common locations as supermarkets and corner stores; many also see alcohol advertising in magazines and at concerts and sports events.

One study found no relationship between advertising and actual drinking behavior (Wyllie, Zhang & Casswell 1998), while others have suggested a positive relationship between advertising exposures (Grube & Wallack 1994) or positive responses to alcohol advertisements (Wyllie, Zhang & Casswell 1998) and intentions as an adult. In addition, intentions to drink as an adult tap the child’s expectations of engaging in an activity that is normative and legal for adults; they are far removed from the child’s actual drinking behavior or expectation of drinking while under age.

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Alcohol consumption during this developmental period. (2016, Jul 01). Retrieved from

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