Background: Heavy episodic drinking (HED) refers to alcohol consumption that exceeds the recommended threshold for a given episode and increases risk for diverse negative alcohol-related consequences. A pattern of weekly HED is most prevalent in emerging adults (i.e., age 18-25). However, rates of HED consistently decline in the mid to late twenties, referred to as 'aging out' or 'maturing out' of HED. Although many individual studies have followed changes in drinking behaviour over the transition to adulthood, there has yet to be a systematic review to identify consistent factors contributing to risk (i.e. failure to age out) and protection (i.e. successful aging out). The objective of this review will be to summarize and critically appraise the literature on factors contributing to aging out of HED among emerging adults.
Methods: A systematic search of observational cohort studies following drinking behaviours in age cohorts overlapping with the emerging adulthood period will be conducted in MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsychInfo, and CINAHL. Two independent reviewers will evaluate identified studies for inclusion eligibility, extract study data, and assess the quality of included studies. Primary outcomes will be quantity/frequency of alcohol use (e.g. drinks/week) and severity of alcohol-related problems. Predictors of maturing out of HED will be reported narratively, and where appropriate, random effects meta-analyses will be conducted to provide pooled effect sizes. An evidence map will be created to characterize the overall pattern of findings.
Discussion: This systematic review will provide a timely and warranted summary of published work contributing to understanding aging out of heavy episodic drinking. Our findings will provide critical commentary on the developmental course of HED during the transition from adolescence to adulthood and will be the first review to consider both protective and risk factors for maturing out of frequent binge drinking. By highlighting factors identifying those at-risk for prolonged heavy episodic drinking, our conclusions will have important treatment implications for primary, secondary, and tertiary intervention strategies.
Systematic review registration: PROSPERO CRD42017078436 .
Keywords: Alcohol, Binge drinking, Heavy episodic drinking, Alcohol misuse, Emerging adults, Young adults, Alcohol use disorder, Maturing out.