Aims: Recent epidemiological findings indicate that non-drinkers as well as hazardous/harmful drinkers experience higher levels of distress than moderate drinkers. Little is known about the age at which this develops. This paper examines levels of affect, depression and anxiety over the full range of alcohol consumption in young adults.
Design: Cross-sectional findings from the first wave of a prospective, longitudinal study are presented.
Participants: The general population sample comprised of 2404 young adults (aged 20-24 years). living in the Canberra region. Measures included: the Goldberg Depression and Anxiety scales, the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule, and the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.
Findings: For men, both non/occasional and hazardous/harmful consumption were associated with lower levels of positive affect and higher levels of anxiety and depression. The higher levels of distress evident for male abstainers were related to being less extroverted and less healthy and not to past hazardous/harmful alcohol consumption, current tobacco or marijuana use. For women, only hazardous/harmful drinkers were found to have higher levels of depression and negative affect. Hazardous/harmful consumption was related to using marijuana, tobacco and recent stressful events in both men and women.
Conclusions: Higher levels of distress are already evident in male non-drinkers in early adulthood. The findings counter theories that distress in non-drinkers is due to past hazardous/harmful alcohol consumption, marijuana or tobacco use, or characteristics in common with hazardous/harmful drinkers. Alcohol use disorders and mental health problems are pertinent issues for young adults. However, more understanding is needed of the experiences of non-drinkers in an alcohol consuming culture.