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Influence of Developmental Social Role Transitions on Young Adult Substance Use

Young adulthood is a developmental period in which many transitions in social roles occur, such as changes in educational status, employment status, relationship status, living situations, cultural considerations, and friendships. This phase of life is also associated with increased risk of substance use. A recent study looked at each of these changes and the relationship with substance use for each.

Young adults in college tend to more commonly binge drink and be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. As young adults move on towards employment, most research shows that they “mature out” of heavy drinking for the most part while some continue to engage in heavy alcohol use. Conversely, those who work over 20 hours per week are at a higher risk for substance use, particularly alcohol use and negative alcohol related consequences.

As far as relationships, involvement in a romantic relationship, getting married, and having children are linked to decrease in alcohol and drug use, while casual dating is related to more frequent substance use.

Living situation can impact these trends however, as those in a relationship and not married may be at greater risk for substance use. Also, young adults in college are at risk for substance use particularly if they live in off-campus housing.

Substance use patterns among young adults also vary by cultural contexts, and college students who are Latino or African American with lower levels of family-orientation report heavier alcohol use. American Indian and Alaska native students report drinking significantly less than the average college student.

Overall, many factors within young adulthood can significantly impact substance use behaviors.

Take Away: Changes in educational status, employment status, relationship status, living situations, cultural considerations, and friendships during young adulthood can impact trends in substance use within this population.

Cadigan, J.M., Duckworth, J.C., Parker, M.E., Lee, C.M. (2019). Influence of Developmental Social Role Transitions on Young Adult Substance Use. Current Opinion in Psychology. doi.org/10.016/j.copsyc.2019.03.006

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