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Problem Drinking from Young Adulthood to Adulthood: Patterns, Predictors and Outcomes

Melanie E. Bennett, Barbara S. McCrady, Valerie Johnson, Robert J. Pandina

Objective: Many young adults engage in heavy or problem drinking, but it is unclear who will continue problem drinking into adulthood. This study followed a general population sample in order to study patterns of problem drinking over time, to identify differences among drinking groups, to test a model differentiating youth-limited from developmentally-persistent problem drinkers, and to examine adult outcomes. Method: Data were from the Health and Human Development Project; subjects (N = 1,073) were in three age cohorts (age 18-25; age 21-28; age 24-31). Based on use and consequences data from two assessment intervals, cluster analyses were performed. Results: Cluster analyses yielded four drinking groups: youth-limited problem drinkers, stable moderate drinkers, stable low drinkers and developmentally-persistent problem drinkers. Rates of youth-limited problem drinking peaked in the middle cohort and rates of developmentally-persistent problem drinking decreased in the oldest cohort. Discriminant analysis revealed that developmentally-persistent problem drinkers in each age cohort are more likely to be male, to show high disinhibition, and to experience a high level of problem behaviors. Youth-limited problem drinkers were similar to developmentally-persistent problem drinkers on many young adult characteristics and adult outcomes. Developmentally-persistent problem drinkers in each age cohort continued to show higher levels of problem behaviors in adulthood than youth-limited problem drinkers. Conclusions: Most young adults show continuity of drinking patterns. Although developmentally-persistent problem drinkers did not differ from youth-limited problem drinkers in adopting adult roles, their continued experience of many problem behaviors suggests that they fail to adopt the role of greater conventionality in adulthood. (J. Stud. Alcohol 60: 605-614, 1999)