The manner in which you drink alcohol as a young person might be more important than how much you drink in determining future alcoholism risk, according to new research that warns against drinking alone in early life, especially if you're a young female. Researchers analyzed data from 4,500 18-year-olds who provided information about their alcohol use over a 17-year period that ended when they were 35. As adolescents (age 18, in this case), about 25% of them reported drinking alone; when they provided an update on their drinking habits as young adults (ages 23 to 24), 40% reported drinking solo, according to a release.
At age 35 they were asked about alcohol use disorder symptoms. Researchers found those who drank alone as adolescents had a 35% increased risk for developing symptoms of alcoholism at age 35 compared with adolescents who only drank in social settings. Young adults who drank alone were at a 60% increased risk compared to social-only drinkers. "Even after we account for well-known risk factors, like binge drinking, frequency of alcohol use, socioeconomic status, and gender, we see a strong signal that drinking alone as a young person predicts alcohol problems in adulthood," says lead author Kasey Creswell, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University who teamed up with researchers at the University of Michigan.
Indeed, she tells CNN that "solitary drinking at younger ages is accounting for unique risk for future alcohol problems above and beyond earlier binge drinking and frequency of alcohol use," meaning doctors who screen young people for risky alcohol use should extend their focus beyond these two areas. The findings, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, are especially concerning as research indicates solitary drinking has increased during the pandemic, including for adolescent females. Creswell specifically warns young women against this behavior. "The odds of alcohol use disorder symptoms at age 35 was 86% higher for adolescent females who drank alone," but "only 8% higher for adolescent males who drank alone," she tells CNN. (Read more alcohol stories.)