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Stressful life events (SLEs) have been associated with an increased risk of heavy drinking, suggesting individuals may use alcohol to cope with negative life events. However, little research has explored the extent to which SLEs have different effects on later alcohol use based on one’s current alcohol use pattern. We replicated prototypical patterns of alcohol use via latent class analysis at Waves 2, 3, and 4 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (n = 4,569). Latent transition analysis was then used to examine the extent to which SLEs influenced the likelihood of stability or change in class membership from adolescence to early adulthood. Results suggested that adolescents were more likely to transition into different patterns of alcohol use as they entered early adulthood but were more likely to retain the same drinking pattern once in early adulthood. Among those who typically abstained, experiencing SLEs was associated with greater odds of transitioning to heavier drinking or problematic patterns of alcohol use. However, among those who had heavy or problematic alcohol use patterns, SLEs were associated with greater odds of decreasing alcohol use to either heavy or abstaining levels. Results suggest those who previously abstained may begin to use alcohol as a coping mechanism following stressful events, whereas those who drank heavily may decrease or abstain from alcohol use following life stress as a means of enacting positive life changes. The results encourage further study into factors that differentiate changes in alcohol use among light drinkers following SLEs.