Feelings of immaturity accompany alcohol misuse into adulthood; discovery could improve treatments

Tipping back one too many cocktails during an individual's early 20s doesn't correlate to a personal sense of immaturity; however if this habit doesn't stop as they reach age 30, young adults can feel psychologically underdeveloped, according to a University of Missouri study. Helping young adults acknowledge their mental impulse to "sober up" as they mature can improve substance abuse intervention programs.

"When a heavy drinking 30-year-old comes in for therapy and says he doesn't feel like an adult, we can present this study and suggest that cutting back on alcohol could help him feel more mature," said lead researcher Rachel Winograd, a doctoral student in psychology at MU.

"People in their early 20s who accept their own heavy drinking and experience alcohol-related consequences may not realize that these behaviors can be associated with identity issues later on," said Winograd. "We can apply this research to nip the problem in the and help become aware that their alcohol use behaviors may conflict with their long-term goals."

When more than 400 25-years-old adults were interviewed, some showed signs of alcohol use problems, but their problems didn't correlate to self-reported feelings of . When surveyed again four years later at age 29 and then again at age 35, subjects expressed different sentiments: individuals who showed signs of or dependence also self-reported feeling immature for their age.

"We interpreted our findings to suggest that, at 25, drinking is more culturally acceptable," Winograd said. "Young adults are out at the bars with their friends and drinking is a bonding experience. They also view blacking out, and drunk driving as more acceptable because peers are behaving similarly.

"But by 29, when many of their have settled down, individuals who still drink heavily may start to view themselves as 'Peter Pans' of partying, who never fully matured," Winograd said.

The study relied on data collected from a group, which was studied since they were college freshmen in 1987 by Kenneth Sher, Winograd's adviser, study co-author and curators' distinguished professor of psychological sciences. Previous studies examined this group's attitudes toward drinking when they were younger.

"This study picked up where studies of adolescents left off," Winograd said, "There seems to be a window of time in the early to mid-20s when drinking is not associated with immaturity. Before and after that window, excessive alcohol use is associated with a lower self-reporting of maturity, according to our results and previous studies."

Having data from previous studies going back to 1987 about the same group of young adults was an important resource for the new study. Unless there has been a major cultural shift in attitudes, examining the same group as they mature over the years is almost always better for this type of study than surveying different age groups at the same time, said Sher.

"Most critically, it allows us to assume that age differences in the size or direction of an effect is associated with developmental change and not related to sampling biases associated with sampling two different age groups," said Sher.

The study "Do People Who 'Mature Out' of See Themselves as More Mature?" was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. In addition to Winograd and Sher, psychology doctoral student Andrew Littlefield also was an author.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New research links teen alcohol use with suicide

Feb 04, 2008

Pre-teens who drink alcohol are substantially more likely to be involved in violent behavior as adolescents and young adults, according to new research from Georgia State University's Institute of Public Health.

Young adults drink more in the company of a heavy drinker

Mar 21, 2012

Young adults drink more alcohol if they are in the company of peers who drink heavily. NWO researcher Helle Larsen has scientifically confirmed this link for the first time by observing young adults in a research lab converted ...

Recommended for you

More teens abstaining from alcohol

Apr 10, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A broad change in drinking behaviour has occurred among Australian adolescents in the last decade. The percentage of Australians aged 14-17 who do not drink alcohol has increased from ...

Chronic smoking can diminish postural stability

Apr 08, 2014

Chronic cigarette smoking has a high co-occurrence with alcohol use disorders, and roughly 60 to 90 percent of alcohol dependent (AD) individuals seeking treatment are chronic smokers. Postural instability is also common ...

User comments