The Role of Romantic Relationship Status in Pathways of Risk for Emerging Adult Alcohol Use

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Abstract

Dating several people in emerging adulthood has been associated with higher alcohol use compared with being single or being in an exclusive relationship. As a follow-up to that report, we examined whether romantic relationship status is part of a pathway of risk between antecedent alcohol use risk factors and subsequent alcohol outcomes. Participants were 4,410 emerging adults assessed at 2 time-points during their first year of college. We found that a parental history of alcohol problems was indirectly related to dating several people via 2 modestly correlated pathways. The first pathway was through conduct problems. The second pathway was through positive urgency (i.e., a positive emotion-based predisposition to rash action). In turn, dating several people was associated with higher alcohol use. Our results suggest that these familial and individual-level alcohol risk factors are related to emerging adults’ selection into subsequent romantic relationship experiences that are associated with higher alcohol use. These findings have implications for how romantic relationship experiences may fit into developmental models of the etiology of alcohol use.

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