When young adults are seeking a casual dating relationship, drinking is likely to follow, new research suggests.
Meanwhile, those who are already in a serious relationship are likely to drink less.
The study included more than 700 people in the Seattle area, aged 18 to 25, who filled out surveys every month for two years. The study used a community sample that was not limited to college students.
“Young adults shift so much in terms of social relationships that having this monthly data really allowed us to hone in on nuances and see these changes in alcohol use depending on social situations,” said study author Jennifer Duckworth. She’s an assistant professor at Washington State University’s department of human development.
“The idea is to understand whether young adults may be viewing alcohol as a way to facilitate relationships. They may think of alcohol as a way to make hanging out easier or more fun,” Duckworth said in a university news release.
For the study, the researchers separated single young adults into two “relationship” groups: casually dating, and not interesting in dating. The investigators tracked the study participants as they moved in and out of different relationship statuses.
“For instance, one month, someone may not be interested in dating and their alcohol use tended to be lower. Then, if they start dating, alcohol use tended to be higher,” Duckworth said.
“If a college student has mid-terms, they may have less interest in spending time with friends,” she added. “But if it’s spring break, they may place more importance on those friendships. And when friendships become more important, we found alcohol use tends to be higher.”
Young adults have more high-risk alcohol use than any other age group, Duckworth noted. The study authors said that the overall goal of this research was to understand the context for greater alcohol use by young adults.
“Understanding what’s going on in their lives across time is very useful if we want to mitigate high-risk use of alcohol,” Duckworth explained. “We can focus on interventions that help educate young adults on what is motivating their behaviors. We’re bridging alcohol use with development research in a meaningful way that can really help people.”
The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provided funding for the study. The findings were published online June 14 in the journal Substance Use & Misuse.
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and offers help and information on substance abuse.
SOURCE: Washington State University, news release, June 15, 2021