Life-history theory and risky drinking


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Abstract

AimsLife-history theory, a major theory related to evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology, is applied to analyze patterns in alcohol abuse and dependence. The life-history approach examines how intensity of reproductive competition affects the benefits and costs of risk-taking, which are typically greater for young men than for women or older men. We used this framework to predict demographic variation in hazardous patterns of alcohol use, assuming that they reflect risk-taking in general.DesignThis paper is a review of literature on demographic patterns in risky drinking and alcohol dependence. Predictions are generated using evolutionary analysis of risk-taking. Existing surveys of drinking behavior are reviewed, and findings are compared to predictions.FindingsResults were generally consistent with predictions. The frequency of risky drinking and dependence is higher for men, and people of younger age, single marital status, childless parental status or unstable environmental resources. An exception is the effect of educational attainment, which is inconsistent.ConclusionsRisky drinking behavior, as with other forms of physical risk-taking, is more frequently observed in young men, and it increases where environmental instability is higher. The utility of life-history theory is compared to alternate conceptions of risky drinking and dependence. Implications of this perspective for research and clinical efforts are explored.

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