Study Asks, Do Young Adults Outgrow Their Drinking Habits?

by Hayley Hudson |  ❘ 

Is The Belief That Young Adults Outgrow Their Drinking Habits A Myth?

It’s a common belief that young adults, especially college-aged adults, drink alcohol and party a lot more than people in other age groups. There is some truth to that notion, with 60 percent of students between the ages of 18 and 22 drinking alcohol in the past month. It is also commonly believed that once an individual grows out of their 20s, they will reduce their drinking and live a more responsible lifestyle. Michael Windle, chairman of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, wanted to test that belief by studying the drinking habits of over 1,000 participants from ages 17 to 33. So, is it true that young adults outgrow their drinking habits?

The answer is not as straightforward as many would choose to believe. The researchers divided the participants into 3 groups: the normative group, which had low alcohol use from adolescence into adulthood, the moderate group, who’s alcohol use increased from adolescence into adulthood, and the high intake group, who had high alcohol consumption from adolescence into young adulthood. The normative group had 646 members, the moderate group had 300 members, and the high intake group had 58 members. Alcohol abuse peaked at 19 to 25 years of age with the moderate and heavy drinkers increasing their alcohol intake before cutting back. Although the moderate and heavy drinkers cut back, it was not a major reduction.

By age 33, the high intake group cut back by 1 drink a day, averaging 4.5 drinks per day. The moderate group cut back by .27 drinks a day, averaging 1.28 drinks per day. Study author Windle said, “One drink a day is probably not going to cause problems,” but if individuals are binge drinking 6 drinks at a time for 5 days a month: “That’s clearly not normative for adults,” Windle said. Binge drinking can lead to inflammation of the pancreas, stomach, and liver, and puts people at risk for alcohol poisoning. Excessive drinking is also linked to an increased risk of irregular heartbeat, heart attack, and high blood pressure.

Paid Advertising. We receive advertising fees from purchases through the BetterHelp links below.

Online Addiction Counseling

Get professional help from an online addiction and mental health counselor from BetterHelp.

Get Matched
Begin Therapy
  • Personalized Matching Process
  • Easy Online Scheduling
  • 30,000+ Licensed Therapists


How Alcohol Use Impacts Work And Family

The study found that the people in the high intake group were more likely to have a substance abuse problem and to have friends that also consumed large amounts of alcohol, compared to the normative group. Both the moderate and high intake group were more likely to have sleep problems, conflict in partner, work, and family relationships, and have lower job-related motivation. Scott Krakower, DO, assistant chief of the adolescent inpatient unit at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks. N.Y. reviewed the study and said, “This study highlights that drinking behavior in adolescents, whether it be moderate or severe consumption, has been associated with multiple stressors later in life. This may result in conflict with relationships, within the family and the workplace.”

An alcohol use disorder can severely affect job prospects and an individual’s earning potential. Alcohol abuse is one of the top 10 reasons why employees get laid off. Excessive alcohol use costs businesses $249 billion per year, with 72% of that cost being lost productivity. Not only is loss productivity an issue, safety is a major concern, with 11% of workplace-related deaths having alcohol as a contributing factor. Even if someone is capable of performing well in work while drinking to excess, that does not make it acceptable to consume heavy amounts of alcohol. Relationships with coworkers are strained, with 20% of managers and coworkers saying that their coworkers drinking threatened their safety, and personal relationships are strained as well.

In marriages where one spouse drinks heavily, 50% of them end in divorce, compared to the current divorce rate that is closer to 40%. Children can be negatively impacted by their parents drinking as well as their spouse. A parent with a substance use disorder is 3 times more likely to physically or sexually abuse their child, and children that are abused are far more likely to be aggressive and have behavioral problems, depression, anxiety, poor peer relations, and be socially withdrawn.

Do People Ever Outgrow Their Drinking Habits?

The results from Windle’s study show a need to screen teens for alcohol use early on and provide early intervention. Because young adults who drink heavily are likely to continue their drinking patterns into adulthood, it should not be assumed that they will outgrow their drinking habits. This study only went into participant’s 30s, so their middle age drinking habits were not analyzed. The study author believes that they will continue their drinking levels and more research needs to be conducted to validate that theory. It is never too early to seek intervention for a young person’s drinking and it should be taken seriously at any stage in life.

Last Updated:


Hayley Hudson

Photo of Hayley Hudson
  • Hayley Hudson is the Director of Content at Addiction Center. She earned a B.A. in Communications from the University of Central Florida and has over 7 years of professional writing experience.

  • More from Hayley Hudson