Summary: Adolescents with problematic alcohol use are more likely to experience poorer health and life satisfaction in their mid-30s.
Font: Society for Research in Alcoholism
Alcohol misuse in adolescence affects physical health and life satisfaction for several decades, outcomes that are driven by ongoing alcohol problems, a new study has found.
The link between teen drinking and poor health through age 30 held even after accounting for the effects of nature (genes) and nurture (early family backgrounds).
Problematic alcohol use in adolescence is known to be linked to ongoing health and life problems. A better understanding of this process could inform specific early interventions that can prevent or ameliorate negative long-term consequences.
The new study, Alcoholism: clinical and experimental research, sought to clarify the pathways, direct or indirect, by which adolescent alcohol use has such far-reaching effects. The researchers explored participants’ alcohol misuse in adolescence and early adulthood, and physical health and life satisfaction in their mid-30s.
The study sample was restricted to twins, which allowed consideration of shared genetic and environmental factors that could influence the results.
The researchers worked with 2,733 pairs of twins born in Finland in the late 1970s. Half of the participants were women and a third of the sample were identical twins. Participants completed questionnaires at ages 16, 17, and 18.5 years, in young adulthood (around 24 years old), and in middle age (around 34 years old).
The surveys assessed their frequency of drinking, intoxication, and alcohol problems, as well as their gender, BMI, and cigarette use. Adult surveys covered alcohol problems (eg, dependence, withdrawal, blackouts, and neglected responsibilities).
The final survey, when participants were 30 years old, covered somatic health symptoms (eg, stomach aches, low back pain) and self-rated health and life satisfaction. It included questions about marital status, education, employment, and use of cigarettes and other drugs. The researchers used statistical analyzes to explore associations between adolescent alcohol misuse, adult health and life outcomes, and demographic factors.
Higher teen alcohol abuse was associated with higher alcohol problems in young adults. In turn, problem drinking in the 20s was associated with struggles with alcohol in early middle age (the 30s).
These drinking behaviors were related to poorer physical health and lower life satisfaction. The findings indicate an indirect influence of alcohol use among adolescents on midlife health and life outcomes.
Within this pattern of serial mediation (chains of risk that accumulate throughout life), the researchers also found a direct association between alcohol consumption in adolescents and life satisfaction in their 30s (but not health), underscoring the continuing influence of early alcohol use over subsequent decades.
The effects were somewhat modest, suggesting that adolescent alcohol abuse is not the only factor driving illness and life dissatisfaction later in life. But the findings held up in twin comparisons, indicating the relevance of alcohol use among teens for fighting in adulthood.
The study confirms that ongoing alcohol problems mediate the association between alcohol use among adolescents and worse outcomes in midlife. It highlights the importance of preventive interventions targeting adolescents that could mitigate negative health and life consequences for several decades.
Effective strategies include parental rule-setting, substance use education and programs that address psychoeducation, personality risk factors (eg, sensation seeking), and coping techniques maladaptive.
Additional research is needed to explore possible additional pathways, such as other substance use, that might influence midlife outcomes.
About this research news on alcohol and psychology
original research: Open access.
“Exploring the relationships between adolescent alcohol abuse and health outcomes in later life.” by Angela Pascale et al. Alcoholism: clinical and experimental research
Exploring the relationships between adolescent alcohol abuse and health outcomes in later life.
We try to clarify the impact of alcohol abuse in adolescents on the physical health and subjective well-being of adults. To do so, we investigated both direct associations between adolescent alcohol abuse and physical health and life satisfaction in early midlife and indirect effects on these outcomes attributable to later alcohol problems.
The sample included 2,733 pairs of twins (32% monozygotic; 52% female) from the FinnTwin16 study. Adolescent alcohol abuse was a composite of frequency of drunkenness, frequency of alcohol use, and problem drinking at ages 16, 17, and 18.5 years. Early midlife outcomes included somatic symptoms, self-rated health, and life satisfaction at age 34 years. Mediators examined as part of indirect effect analyzes included alcohol problems from the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index at ages 24 and 34. Twin comparison models were applied and included covariates from adolescence and early middle age.
There were weak direct associations between adolescent alcohol misuse and physical health and life satisfaction in early middle age. However, there was stronger evidence for indirect effects, according to which alcohol problems in young adults and early midlife serially mediated the relationship between adolescent alcohol misuse and symptoms. somatic symptoms in early middle age.β = 0.03, 95% CI [0.03, 0.04]), self-assessed health (β = −0.02, 95% CI [−0.03, −0.01]), and life satisfaction (β = −0.03, CI [−0.04, −0.02]). These serially mediated effects were robust in co-twin comparison analyses.
These results provide evidence that alcohol problems are a major factor linking adolescent alcohol abuse and poor health outcomes throughout life.