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Misuse of alcohol in teens, 20s linked to dissatisfaction and poor health in 30s, study says

Story at a glance

  • Drinking problems can affect physical and mental health.

  • One study looked at long-term data on twins to understand how alcohol misuse in teen years could affect health later.

  • The study finds a weak direct effect two decades later, with indirect effects potentially being a factor.

A study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research suggests that misusing alcohol in your teens and 20s could have long term effects on mental and physical health.

The researchers’ main objective was to examine whether poor physical health consequences continue beyond your 20s as a result of alcohol misuse during the teenage years. To do this, they analyzed a longitudinal dataset.

They looked at alcohol misuse index values for 2,733 pairs of twins born in Finland in the late 1970s at ages 16, 17 and 18.5 years old. Alcohol use during young adult and “early midlife” were also recorded at ages 24 and 34, using a method that includes “assessing dependence, withdrawal, blackouts, neglect of responsibilities, inappropriate behaviors, and shame or embarrassment because of drinking.”

Finally, they also collated data from a questionnaire which included questions about life satisfaction, physical symptoms and self-rated health at age 34.

“Understanding these long-term effects will further our 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,” said Angela Pascale, author of the study and a PhD student in the Health Psychology program at Virginia Commonwealth University, in a press release.

They found there was a direct, although weak, effect of early alcohol misuse on later physical health and life satisfaction. There was a direct effect between adolescent alcohol and early midlife life satisfaction, but not for somatic symptoms or self-rated health, according to the study.

There seemed to be a stronger indirect effect. Adolescent alcohol misuse was associated with alcohol misuse in young adulthood, and alcohol misuse in young adulthood was associated with alcohol misuse later in the 30s.

“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,” Pascale said in the press release.

“Our findings imply that drinking in adolescence and the consequences that follow are seen two decades later across multiple developmental stages,” said Pascale.

This seems to hold true even when controlling for genetic and environmental factors.

However, one limitation to the study is that some data is self-reported, rather than standardized and measured. It does suggest that more longitudinal data could clarify the long-term effects of alcohol misuse.

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