Delineating Developmental Periods in Adulthood Suggests Age-Related Shifts in the Correlates of Alcohol Use and Problems

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2021 Feb;45(2):446-456. doi: 10.1111/acer.14535. Epub 2021 Jan 29.


Background: Developmental context is related to the propensity to engage in alcohol use, the rate at which alcohol use changes, and the relevance of different risk factors to alcohol use disorder (AUD). Therefore, studies of change should consider developmental nuances, but change is often modeled to follow a uniform pattern, even across distinct developmental periods.

Methods: This study implemented a novel analytic approach to delineate developmental periods of alcohol behavior (n = 478, ages 18 to 35). This approach was further leveraged to examine age-related shifts in the association of impulsivity risk factors (lack of planning, general sensation seeking, alcohol enhancement expectancies) with alcohol behavior (alcohol quantity*frequency, heavy drinking, AUD).

Results: A sequence of exploratory and confirmatory latent growth models (LGMs) suggested modeling separate linear change factors for alcohol behavior during the primary college (ages 18 to 21) and postcollege years (21 to 35). Bivariate LGMs estimated correlations for alcohol behavior changes with lack of planning, sensation seeking, and enhancement expectancies during these periods. The rate at which heavy drinking changed during the college years was positively correlated with general sensation seeking and lack of planning during this period (rs = 0.61 to 0.63). These correlations were significantly weaker during the postcollege years (rs = 0.29 to 0.34). Notably, the rate of change in alcohol behavior was strongly correlated with enhancement expectancies during the college (r = 0.45 to 0.70) and postcollege years (r = 0.45 to 0.61).

Conclusions: These findings highlight the importance of sensation seeking and lack of planning with regard to adult alcohol use, particularly in a college environment. There was also a strong link between the rates of change in alcohol behavior and enhancement expectancies across all waves. This study supports the utility of exploratory LGMs for delineating developmental periods of alcohol behavior, which are characterized by different processes.

Keywords: Alcohol; Change; Exploratory; Impulsivity; Latent Growth Models; Sensation Seeking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / trends*
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiology*
  • Male
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Universities / trends
  • Young Adult