Emerging Adult Identity Development, Alcohol Use, and Alcohol-Related Problems During the Transition Out of College

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Abstract

Alcohol use generally peaks during the early 20s and declines with age. These declines, referred to as “maturing out,” are presumed to result from the acquisition of adult roles (e.g., marriage, employment) incompatible with alcohol use. Recent empirical evidence suggests that variables other than role transitions (e.g., personality) may also be important in understanding this process. Changes in identity that occur during emerging adulthood may also be linked to the process of maturing out of heavy drinking, though no studies have yet addressed this possibility. Utilizing data from a large sample of graduating college students (N = 907) during senior year (Wave 1) and the 2 following years (Waves 2–3), the current study examined relations between aspects of emerging adult identity and drinking outcomes (alcohol use and problems). Using time-varying covariate growth models, results indicated that several facets of emerging adult identity conferred risk for the failure to mature out of heavy drinking and alcohol-related problems. Experimentation/possibilities emerged as a significant risk factor for both heavy drinking and alcohol problems, but these effects diminished considerably when accounting for personality risk. In contrast, although small in magnitude, effects of self-focus on heavy drinking and negativity/instability on alcohol-related problems were relatively independent of effects of other established predictors. The effect for negativity/instability was evident only at the final wave. The findings have important implications for theories of maturing out and may ultimately inform tailoring or refinement of prevention/intervention approaches for emerging adults.

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