Role Transitions and Young Adult Maturing Out of Heavy Drinking: Evidence for Larger Effects of Marriage Among More Severe Premarriage Problem Drinkers

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Background: Research has shown a developmental process of "maturing out" of problem drinking beginning in young adulthood. Perhaps surprisingly, past studies suggest that young adult drinking reductions may be particularly pronounced among those exhibiting relatively severe forms of problem drinking earlier in emerging adulthood. This may occur because more severe problem drinkers experience stronger ameliorative effects of normative young adult role transitions like marriage. Methods: The hypothesis of stronger marriage effects among more severe problem drinkers was tested using 3 waves of data from a large ongoing study of familial alcohol disorder (N = 844; 51% children of alcoholics). Results: Longitudinal growth models characterized (i) the curvilinear trajectory of drinking quantity from ages 17 to 40, (ii) effects of marriage on altering this age-related trajectory, and (iii) moderation of this effect by premarriage problem drinking levels (alcohol consequences and dependence symptoms). Results confirmed the hypothesis that protective marriage effects on drinking quantity trajectories would be stronger among more severe premarriage problem drinkers. Supplemental analyses showed that results were robust to alternative construct operationalizations and modeling approaches. Conclusions: Consistent with role incompatibility theory, findings support the view of role conflict as a key mechanism of role-driven behavior change, as greater problem drinking likely conflicts more with demands of roles like marriage. This is also consistent with the developmental psychopathology view of transitions and turning points. Role transitions among already low-severity drinkers may merely represent developmental continuity of a low-risk trajectory, whereas role transitions among higher-severity problem drinkers may represent developmentally discontinuous "turning points" that divert individuals from a higher- to a lower-risk trajectory. Practically, findings support the clinical relevance of role-related "maturing out processes" by suggesting that they often reflect natural recovery from clinically significant problem drinking. Thus, understanding these processes could help clarify the nature of pathological drinking and inform interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1064-1074
Number of pages11
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Alcohol
  • Marriage
  • Maturing Out
  • Role Socialization
  • Young Adulthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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