alcohol use disorder, drinking alone
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For young adults, especially women, drinking alone can increase the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder later in life

Drinking alone during adolescence and young adulthood strongly increases the risk for alcohol use disorder (AUD) later in life – especially high for women – which can cause serious health consequences in the future, both mentally and physically.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers believe that the social context in which young people drink is a critical but often overlooked indicator of future alcohol misuse.

Young people commonly drink alone as a way to cope with negative emotions, which is a pattern of alcohol use that has been consistently linked to the development of alcohol problems. The pandemic has increased solitary drinking among young people.

Excessive alcohol use is a worldwide burden

Contributing to 3 million deaths globally each year, alcohol use disorder is a commonly seen problem which is normalised in many societies, which can have serious consequences when done in excess.

Doctors often screen young people for risky alcohol use, but their questions have focused on the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumed.

“With concurrent increases in pandemic-related depression and anxiety, we may very well see an increase in alcohol problems among the nation’s youth.”

Researchers analysed over 4,500 adolescents (age 18) who responded to surveys asking about their patterns of alcohol use and whether they consumed alcohol while alone. These participants were then followed for 17 years, providing information about their alcohol use, and drinking alone in young adulthood (ages 23/24) and reporting AUD symptoms in adulthood (age 35).

The team controlled for a host of well-established early risk factors for alcohol problems, such as binge drinking and frequent drinking.

The risk of developing AUD symptoms was 60% higher for adolescents who drank alone

They found the odds of having AUD symptoms at age 35 were 35% higher for adolescents who drank alone, and 60% higher for young adults who drank alone, compared to social-only drinkers.

Around 25% of adolescents and 40% of young adults reported drinking alone.


This research on AUD was particularly high for adolescent females who drank alone, but luckily these findings suggest and indicate a chance of targeting interventions to educate and inform these groups, especially young women, of the risks of solitary drinking to prevent the development of AUD in the future.

Lead author Kasey Creswell, associate professor of psychology at CMU, said: “Most young people who drink do it with others in social settings, but a substantial minority of young people are drinking alone. Solitary drinking is a unique and robust risk factor for future alcohol use disorder.

“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.

“With concurrent increases in pandemic-related depression and anxiety, we may very well see an increase in alcohol problems among the nation’s youth.”


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