Background: Longitudinal studies of adult drinking have typically excluded or sampled only small numbers of problem drinking women, and have measured a limited range of influences on women's drinking behavior.
Methods: To study the development of women's problem drinking over time, five-year follow-up interviews were conducted with two groups of respondents from a 1981 national survey of women's drinking: 143 problem drinkers and 157 nonproblem drinkers. Regression analyses examined effects of 1981 predictors on six measures of 1986 problem drinking, for problem drinkers and nonproblem drinkers separately.
Results: Among 1981 nonproblem drinkers, predictors of onset of problem drinking indicators by 1986 included younger age, cohabiting, and lifetime use of drugs other than alcohol. The most consistent predictor of persistent (chronic) problem drinking was sexual dysfunction; other predictor included being employed part-time or never married, and experiencing recent depression. Divorce or separation predicted lower levels of subsequent alcohol dependance among problem drinkers.
Conclusions: Findings suggest that different personal and social factors predict the onset of problem drinking as compared with its continuation, and point to nontraditional life-style, sexual dysfunction, and role deprivation as potentially important variables.