A new study shows that engaging in solitary drinking during young adulthood can greatly increase the risk of developing Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).

Drinking alcohol has become an integral part of most social events and gatherings and is particularly prevalent amongst adolescents. However, while most adults drink while in the company of others, studies show that there is a substantial minority of 12 – 15% of young adults that partake in solitary drinking that increase their likelihood of AUD later in life.1

A recent study followed 709 adolescents for a period of several years that compared social drinkers and solitary drinkers and were measured at certain intervals using the Lifetime Drinking History Method – a research method that identifies alcohol use patterns among groups.2

The study reported that adolescents who engage in solitary drinking typically consume a high quantity of alcohol at a much greater frequency, subsequently developing a higher alcohol tolerance. Frequent solitary drinking can result in overdrinking which can lead to hazardous use and other problems that can become an indicator in predicting AUD in emerging adults.1,3 This type of drinking behavior is also typically associated with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety with research suggesting a 35% increased risk for AUD.1

The large quantities of alcohol consumed can likely be linked to the ability of alcohol to alter the brain and have a greater impact on adolescents that are still in the process of brain development.4 Teens who meet the criteria for AUD showed poorer cognitive performance and alterations in brain structure when compared to those who did not engage in this behavior.4

Alcohol is a major contributor to global disease and is a leading cause of preventable death with AUD being one of the most common psychiatric disorders.5 AUD can be diagnosed through symptoms that include high alcohol tolerance, withdrawal, binge drinking, neglect of daily activities, cravings, large alcohol consumption, and recurrent alcohol use in dangerous situations.3 Furthermore, AUD can be associated with the risk of accidents, loss of productivity, mental health issues, and increased aggression and violence.5

Overall, the study reported a strong association of adolescent solitary drinking with the development of AUD.1


  1. Creswell, K. G., Chung, T., Clark, D. B., & Martin, C. S. (2013). Solitary alcohol use in teens is associated with drinking in response to negative affect and predicts alcohol problems in young adulthood. Clinical Psychological Science, 2(5), 602–610. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702613512795
  2. Russell, M., Marshall, J.R., Trevisan, M., Freudenheim, J., Chan, A.W.K., Markovic, N., Vana, J.E. & Priore, R.L. (1997). Test-retest reliability of the Cognitive Lifetime Drinking History. American Journal of Epidemiology, 146(11), 975-981. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a009225
  3. Christiansen, M., Vik, P. W., & Jarchow, A. (2002). College student heavy drinking in social contexts versus alone. Addictive Behaviors, 27(3), 393–404. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0306-4603(01)00180-0
  4. Jacobus, J., & Tapert, S. F. (2013). Neurotoxic effects of alcohol in adolescence. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 9(1), 703–721. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-050212-185610
  5. Witkiewitz, K., Litten, R. Z., & Leggio, L. (2019). Advances in the science and treatment of alcohol use disorder. Science Advances, 5(9). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aax4043

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