Anticipating problem alcohol use developmentally from childhood into middle adulthood: what have we learned?

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ABSTRACT

This commentary reviews and comments on six major longitudinal studies from the United States, Great Britain and Finland, that test predictive models of drinking and problem drinking behavior across a developmental span of one to two generations. The large Ns, in two instances involving population samples, and the broad and study-overlapping variable domains make this collection of studies unique and of special interest vis-à-vis the issue of cross-study replicability of findings. Significant cross-study commonalities are noted, involving the strong cross-study replicability of an undercontrol/externalizing domain as both a childhood and adolescent predictor of problem drinking outcomes in early to middle adulthood, the relative autostability of heavy and problem use of alcohol over intervals of time as long as a generation, the utility of early drinking behavior as an index for later drinking outcomes, the relative parallelism (with some exceptions) of male and female findings, albeit with greater predictability of male over female drinking outcomes and the relatively tighter relational networks of drinking and other behavioral characteristics for males. This impressive group of quasi-replications also points the field to address several next-step questions, including: (i) the need to parse the undercontrol/externalizing domain to identify those subcomponential process characteristics that are causal to heavy and problem drinking outcomes; (ii) the need to develop models that will handle more effectively the uneven relationships of negative activity to drinking outcomes, in some instances operating protectively, in other instances operating as risk factors; (iii) the need for more carefully articulated, theoretically driven process models that will specify the ordering, developmental saliency and mediational properties of risk and protective factors as they come on line; and (iv) the need for more developmental testing of trait/context interaction models of problem drinking development.

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