Childhood and adolescent predictors of early and middle adulthood alcohol use and problem drinking: the Columbia County Longitudinal Study


Eric F. Dubow, University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, 426 Thompson Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248, USA. E-mail:


Aims  To examine the role of individually and contextually based factors measured during childhood and adolescence in predicting alcohol use and abuse measured during early and middle adulthood.

Design  Initial sample of 856 individuals first interviewed at age 8 with follow-up interviews at 19 (n = 427), 30 (n = 409), and 48 (n = 523).

Participants  Individuals enrolled in 3rd-grade classes in Columbia County, NY, in 1960 (49% female; > 90% Caucasian; primarily working-class families), who were re-sampled in 1970 (51% female), 1981 (52% female) and 2000 (49% female).

Measurements  Parent reports of negative family interaction and socio-economic status when the child was 8 years old; IQ test at age 8; peer nominations of aggression, popularity and behavioral inhibition at ages 8 and 19; self-report of depression and educational attainment at age 19; self-report of alcohol use and problem drinking at ages 30 and 48.

Findings  Path models showed that the effects of childhood individual variables (e.g. aggression, popularity, behavioral inhibition) on adulthood alcohol use and abuse generally were mediated by the same behavioral variables in adolescence. Specifically, both for males and for females, lower levels of behavioral inhibition and higher levels of aggression predicted adulthood alcohol variables. Childhood contextual variables (family socio-economic status and negative family interaction) were relatively weak predictors of adulthood alcohol use and abuse.

Conclusions  Alcohol use and abuse in adulthood, when considered in a long-term developmental–contextual framework, appear to be consistent with a general deviance model of problem behavior whereby individually based factors from childhood and late adolescence predict long-term indices of adulthood alcohol use and abuse.