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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Maryland Study Examines Alcohol Drinking Patterns Before and After College Graduation

A new study led by Dr. Amelia Arria in the University of Maryland School of Public Health finds that many young adults who drink frequently during college continue their frequency of drinking several years post-graduation, even though the quantity consumed may have decreased.

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[Photo: Dr. Amelia Arria]

Dr. Arria’s work is a close study of the phenomenon of “maturing out,” which refers to the transition from risk-taking behaviors to more adult-like attitudes and roles. This phenomenon often leads to abandoning or diminishing the use of controlled substances. The process of “maturing out” often applies to alcohol use among college students. According to prior studies, alcohol-use tends to decrease after graduation.

While the study shows evidence of the maturing-out phenomenon, the frequency of drinking post-graduation suggests an opposite simultaneous trend, Dr. Arria’s research paper read.

“We tested the hypothesis that students tend to “mature out” of high-risk drinking patterns after graduation,” Dr. Arria, associate professor in the UMD SPH Department of Behavioral and Community Health and director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development, said. “As expected, the average number of drinks consumed did decrease after graduation. However, students continued drinking just as often after graduation, on average, as they did during their last year of college.”

Researchers conducted personal interviews with a cohort of 1,128 college graduates participating in the College Life Study, an eight-year longitudinal study that examines health-risk behaviors in young adults. Students were asked to disclose how frequently they had consumed alcohol during the past year (amount of drinks in a typical drinking day). The researchers modeled the drinking trajectories of the students using a model that identified college graduation as a pivotal point between pre- and post-graduation days.

The alcohol consumption data was analyzed within four demographic subgroups: non-Hispanic white males, non-Hispanic white females, minority males and minority females. According to the study, all of the groups exhibited declines in quantity of alcohol consumption during college.  However, the rates of decline were found to be faster among white males and females after graduation, whereas the rates of decline for minority females were similar pre and post-graduation, the study read.  For minority males, alcohol consumption patterns remained mostly the same throughout college, but declined significantly after graduation.

The decrease in alcohol consumption after college leads to the belief that young adults “mature out” of high-risk drinking after graduating.  Previous research by Dr. Arria’s team showed that regardless of the quantity consumed, frequent drinking during college years is a strong predictor of an alcohol use disorder over time. Delays in traditional developmental milestones after college, such as finding a job and becoming financially independent, could alter the process of “maturing out” of heavy drinking patterns.

Although recent college grads who drink frequently in smaller quantities are perceived to be mature and less risky, high-frequency drinking patterns can still lead to drunk driving and alcohol dependency.

“Given that prior studies have relied primarily on measures of alcohol quantity, and given the present finding that quantity and frequency change differentially over time, the possibility that drinking frequency might exert a distinct influence on health outcomes remains an open question and should be a focus of future research,” the study concluded.

“Drinking Like an Adult? Trajectories of Alcohol Use Patterns Before and After College Graduation,” is published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research