Alcohol abuse by teenagers is a cause of poorer health and dissatisfaction in middle age

Summary: Teens with problematic alcohol use are more likely to experience poorer health and poorer life satisfaction in their mid-thirties.

source: Society for the Study of Alcoholism

Adolescent alcohol abuse affects physical health and life satisfaction over several decades, outcomes that are attributable to ongoing alcohol problems, a new study finds.

The link between teenage drinking and poor health into the 30s held even after accounting for the effects of nature (genes) and nurture (early family environment).

Problem drinking in adolescence is known to be associated with ongoing health and life struggles. A better understanding of this process can inform early targeted interventions that can prevent or ameliorate long-term negative consequences.

The new study, in Alcoholism: Clinical and experimental studies, sought to elucidate the pathways—direct or indirect—by which teenage drinking has such profound consequences. The researchers examined participants’ alcohol abuse in adolescence and early adulthood, as well as physical health and life satisfaction in their mid-30s.

The study sample was limited to twins, allowing consideration of shared genetic and environmental factors that may influence outcomes.

The researchers worked with 2,733 pairs of twins born in Finland in the late 1970s. Half of the participants were female, and one-third of the sample were identical twins. Participants completed questionnaires at ages 16, 17, and 18.5 years, in young adulthood (around 24 years), and in early middle age (around 34 years).

The surveys assessed their frequency of drinking, intoxication and alcohol problems, as well as their gender, BMI and cigarette use. Adult studies cover alcohol problems (eg, dependence, withdrawal, blackout, and neglected responsibilities).

The final survey, when participants were 30 years old, covered somatic health symptoms (eg, stomach pain, low back pain) and self-reported health and life satisfaction. It included questions about relationship status, education, employment, and use of cigarettes and other drugs. The researchers used statistical analysis to examine the relationships between teenage alcohol abuse, adult health and life outcomes, and demographic factors.

Higher alcohol abuse among adolescents is associated with greater alcohol problems in young adults. In turn, problem drinking in the 20s was associated with alcohol struggles in early middle age (30s).

Problem drinking in adolescence is known to be associated with ongoing health and life struggles. Image is in the public domain

This drinking behavior is associated with poorer physical health and lower life satisfaction. The findings show an indirect effect of teenage drinking on midlife health and life outcomes.

Within this model of serial mediation—chains of risk that accumulate over a lifetime—the researchers also found a direct link between teenage drinking and life satisfaction in the 30s (but not health), highlighting the continuing influence of early use of alcohol in the coming decades.

The effects were somewhat modest, suggesting that adolescent alcohol abuse is not the only driver of later illness and life dissatisfaction. But the findings held up in twin comparisons, signaling the importance of teenage drinking for struggles in adulthood.

The study confirms that ongoing alcohol problems mediate the link between teenage drinking and poorer outcomes in early middle age. It highlights the importance of adolescent-targeted preventive interventions that could mitigate negative health and life outcomes over several decades.

Effective strategies include setting parenting rules, substance use education and programs targeting psychoeducation, personal risk factors (eg, sensation seeking), and maladaptive coping techniques.

Further research is needed to examine potential additional pathways, such as the use of other substances, that may affect outcomes in midlife.

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About this news about alcohol and psychology research

Author: Press office
source: Society for the Study of Alcoholism
Contact: Press Office – Alcoholism Research Society
Image: Image is in the public domain

Original Research: Free access.
“Exploring the Relationships Between Adolescent Alcohol Abuse and Health Outcomes in Later Life” by Angela Pascale et al. Alcoholism: Clinical and experimental studies


Examining the relationships between adolescent alcohol abuse and later health outcomes


We sought to elucidate the impact of adolescent alcohol abuse on the physical health and subjective well-being of adults. To do this, we examined both the direct associations between alcohol abuse in adolescence and physical health and life satisfaction in early middle age, and the indirect effects on these outcomes due to subsequent alcohol problems.


The sample included 2733 twin pairs (32% monozygotic; 52% female) from the FinnTwin study16. Adolescent alcohol abuse is a composite of frequency of drunkenness, frequency of alcohol use, and alcohol problems at ages 16, 17, and 18.5 years. Early midlife outcomes included somatic symptoms, self-rated health, and life satisfaction at age 34. Mediators examined as part of the indirect effect analyzes included alcohol problems from the Rutgers Alcohol Problems Index at ages 24 and 34. twin comparison models were applied and included covariates from adolescence and early middle age.


There were weak direct associations between alcohol abuse in adolescence and physical health and life satisfaction in early middle age. However, there was stronger evidence for indirect effects, in which alcohol problems in young adulthood and early middle age consistently mediated the relationship between alcohol abuse in adolescence and somatic symptoms in early middle age (b = 0.03, 95% CI [0.03, 0.04]), self-rated health (b = -0.02, 95% CI [−0.03, −0.01]) and life satisfaction (b = -0.03, CI [−0.04, −0.02]). These serial mediation effects were robust across twin analyses.


These results provide evidence that alcohol problems are a major driver linking adolescent alcohol abuse and poor health outcomes across the lifespan.

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