Many Men’s Drinking Increases in Their 30’s, Study Shows

May 22, 2015

Scientists at the Oregon Social Learning Center found that in their 30s many men increase the total amount they drink overall, and have ongoing alcohol-related problems. Nearly one half of the study men drank 13 drinks per week at age 29 years, increasing to 18 drinks per week on average by age 37 years. Almost all of these men showed some symptoms of alcohol dependency, such as “In the last year have you tried to stop using alcohol and found you couldn’t stop?” with an average of two to three symptoms. For men with alcohol problems, their symptoms were chronic across the 30s, with few men showing improvement. A promising finding was that men who had shown a sharp decrease in either heavy episodic drinking or total amount drunk in their 20s were likely to maintain that lower level of consumption.

In contrast to drinking overall, heavy episodic drinking (defined as five or more drinks in a row) for men in their 30’s tends to decline across this decade. Thus to understand alcohol use, several aspects of drinking must be considered.

The study, “Growth, Persistence, and Desistance of Alcohol Use for At-Risk Men in Their 30s” was published online in Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research. The study was supported by funds from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The team of scientists, led by Senior Scientist Dr. Deborah Capaldi, studied approximately 200 men and their partners over 20 years and a particularly interesting finding was that, whereas wife or partner heavy drinking may effect men’s drinking, drunkenness of the men’s friends was a stronger predictor. This indicates that peer influence, thought to wane as men mature, may still be strong in their 30s.

“Few studies have examined the course of alcohol use in adulthood with a community sample, so relatively little is known about naturally occurring patterns of persistence and desistance in different aspects of drinking,” Capaldi said. “The Oregon Youth Study has involved regular assessments of the men since late childhood, and so we are able to gain insight into how changes in such behaviors occur in adulthood, and how we might use these insights to improve prevention and treatment programs.”

The Oregon Youth Study began in 1983 to examine the etiology of antisocial behaviors in boys, with a view to designing preventive interventions within the context of the family and the school. The entire fourth grade of boys (ages 9-10 years) and their parents from lower-income neighborhoods in the Eugene/Springfield area were invited to participate. The sample size was 206 initially, and the sample size is now about 192 in the mid-30s. The Oregon Youth Study proved to be a goldmine of data, with the yearly assessments and comprehensive assessment design providing the opportunity for addressing a broad range of mental health and developmental questions for adolescent and early adult men.