Scientists Discover New Consequences of Drinking as a Teen – And They Can Last Decades


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Alcohol misuse in adolescence is associated with poor health and unhappiness in adulthood.

According to Rutgers and Virginia Commonwealth University-led research, teenagers who abuse alcohol may have more difficulties with drinking issues in their 20s and 30s, have worse health, and feel less satisfied with their lives.

Researchers categorized teenage alcohol abuse based on replies concerning the frequency of intoxication, frequency of alcohol use, and frequency of alcohol issues at ages 16, 17, and 18.8. Their findings were recently published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. They assessed life satisfaction, physical symptoms, and self-rated health at age 34 as the early midlife outcomes.

Even after adjusting for genetic and environmental characteristics that twin siblings share, the results using data from questionnaires of 2,733 pairs of twins born in Finland in the late 1970s remained consistent. The finding, according to scientists, emphasizes the significance of preventive interventions targeting teenagers who abuse alcohol and minimizing health consequences later in adulthood.

“The longitudinal twin design is especially helpful for clarifying whether there are confounding family factors that predispose someone to both misuse alcohol in adolescence and experience poorer physical health and well-being later on in early midlife,” said Jessica Salvatore, coauthor of the study and an associate professor and director of the Genes, Environments, and Neurodevelopment in Addictions Program at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “This is because the twin design allows us to compare exposures and outcomes over time within the same family.”

Unlike previous research that demonstrated teenage alcohol usage directly influences later-life substance use and mental health outcomes, this study discovered that adolescent drinking may affect long-term physical health and life satisfaction rather than influencing it directly.

“Even though we observed these effects, they were somewhat modest, suggesting adolescent alcohol misuse is not the only driver of later poor physical health and life dissatisfaction,” said Salvatore. “Continued alcohol-related problems might play a role as well.”

While previous studies of adolescent alcohol misuse often looked at health outcomes in young adulthood, shortly after teens are surveyed, researchers in this study examined health outcomes across multiple decades into early midlife.

“This study is unique in that it seeks to understand whether poor physical health consequences continue beyond your 20s,” Salvatore said. “Our findings imply that drinking in adolescence and the consequences that follow are seen two decades later across multiple developmental stages.”

The findings indicate teenage drinking’s indirect influence on midlife physical health and life outcomes and highlight the need for prevention strategies for better long-term health. Understanding these long-term effects will further the understanding of early-targeted interventions in adolescence that may prevent or mitigate long-term negative health consequences and improve quality of life across the lifespan.