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Over the years, adolescent alcohol consumption has been associated with a multiplicity of adverse psychosocial and behavioral consequences, including antisocial predispositions, mental health challenges as well as school difficulties (Mason & Spoth, 2011).
Additionally, as acknowledged by these authors, adolescent alcohol use not only interrupts normal processes associated with brain development but also plays a substantial role in increasing the number of homicides, suicides and accidents among this group of the population.
While most scholars are in agreement that the negative outcomes of adolescent alcohol consumption are not basically confined to the teen years but do extend into adult life (Khan, Berger, Wells, & Cleland, 2012; Mason & Spoth, 2011), only a few studies have bothered to assess and evaluate how use of alcohol in adolescence occasions adverse outcomes later in life (McCambridge, McAlaney, & Rowe, 2011).
Consequently, the main purpose of this paper is to expand the knowledge on unfavorable alcohol outcomes by reviewing and synthesizing current professional literature detailing how alcohol consumption during adolescence causes adverse consequences in adulthood.
A systematic review aimed at investigating the possible effects of any behavioral measure of adolescent alcohol use on any adult outcome found dependable proof that high alcohol use during the late teen years continues into adulthood and is positively correlated with a range of consequences in adulthood, including dependence, early death among men as a result of car accidents and suicides, and burden of alcohol related diseases such as liver cirrhosis.
This systematic review also found that, although there are several studies associating adolescent alcohol use with adult physical and mental health challenges, the empirical evidence so far achieved is of unsatisfactory quality to necessitate causal inference or presumptions at this juncture.
The study concluded that more empirical research needs to be undertaken to investigate if alcohol use during adolescence is actually related to the physical and mental health challenges presenting during adulthood (McCambridge et al., 2011).
Another study using a sample of 208 rural teenagers of between 11 and 21 years to investigate alcohol use, negative alcohol-related outcomes and subjective wellbeing in teen years found evidence of a positive relationship between alcohol consumption and subjective well-being in adolescence, hence reinforcing a widely held conception that subjective well-being indicators (e.g., material conditions and personal character) predict alcohol consumption during adolescence.
The study also found that alcohol consumption during late adolescence is positively associated with alcohol problems in early adulthood, with findings documenting some of problems as elevated risk to develop problem drinking and alcohol consumption disorders, functional problems due to disruption of brain maturation during adolescence, and increased uptake of alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with depressive symptomatology (Mason & Spoth, 2011).
In yet another study, researchers used 10,783 adolescents and young adults sampled from a population of Whites and African Americans to investigate the relationship between adolescent alcohol consumption and adulthood sexually transmitted infection (STI) risk in America.
Their study found that alcohol consumption in adolescence predicts higher incidences of STI risks in adulthood for Whites and African Americans, with findings demonstrating evidence of a positive relationship between alcohol use during adolescence and a whole range of STI risk behaviors during adulthood, including having multiple partners, engaging in inconsistent condom use, and having sexual relationships with STI-infected partners.
Consequently, this study availed evidence supporting the assertion that alcohol consumption in adolescence is positively correlated with high sexual risk and infection in later years, and that adolescent alcohol consumption may substantially lead to STI risk in adulthood for Whites and African Americans (Khan et al., 2012).
Overall, the reviewed studies demonstrate that alcohol consumption during adolescence may lead to substantial consequences in adulthood, including dependence, early death due to accidents and suicides, and alcohol related diseases such as liver cirrhosis (McCambridge et al., 2011), alcohol-related mental health disorders due to disruption of brain maturation during adolescence and elevated consumption of alcohol to cope with depressive symptomatology (Mason & Spoth, 2011), as well as initiation of STI risk behaviors such as having multiple partners, incoherent condom use, and having sexual relationships with STI-infected partners (Khan et al., 2012).
However, no study has indicated if these consequences are only experienced in adulthood or can still be experienced during adolescence. Knowledge on whether these consequences are either specific to adult life or are a continuation of the challenges faced during adolescence is of immense importance in designing policy interventions aimed at addressing the problem of alcohol consumption.
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Moreover, such knowledge is of critical value in designing programs that aim to address STI risk behaviors and alcohol use, as suggested by Khan et al (2012).
Additionally, while Mason and Spoth (2011) found evidence associating alcohol consumption in adolescence with a whole range of mental health conditions experienced during adulthood, McCambridge et al (2011) failed to establish any meaningful relationship between alcohol consumption during adolescence and adverse mental health challenges (e.g., major depression, anxiety disorder, suicidal ideation) during adulthood.
It is therefore of critical importance to conduct a study that will address this controversy to provide credible evidence on why governments and other interested stakeholders should consider investing heavily in programs and policies aimed at delaying or minimizing alcohol consumption among adolescents.
Drawing from these studies, it may also be possible that alcohol consumption during adolescence interferes with the normal brain development during this phase of life, which in turn inhibits the normal functioning of individuals in their adult life and predisposes them to high STI risk behaviors as mentioned by Khan et al (2012). However, these issues need to be empirically researched in the hope of providing credible evidence.
Drawing from the gaps established in the literature, the proposed study will aim to test the following hypotheses in its attempt to investigate how alcohol consumption in adolescence is associated with mental health challenges and increased STI risk behaviors during adulthood.
Hypothesis 1: Lack of adequate brain development during adolescence due to alcohol consumption is positively associated with presenting mental health challenges in adulthood
Hypothesis 2: Alcohol consumption during adolescence disrupts the normal functioning of individuals, which in turn predisposes them to elevated STI risk behaviors during adulthood.
This paper has succeeded in not only reviewing the available literature on alcohol consumption in adolescence and consequences in adulthood, but also in identifying some of the existing gaps in the literature through careful and thorough synthesis. The hypotheses developed in this paper are of immense importance in guiding a study aimed at identifying credible evidence on how alcohol consumption during adolescence is associated with mental health challenges and increased STI risk behaviors during adulthood.
Khan, M.R., Berger, A.T., Wells, B.E., & Cleland, C.M. (2012). Longitudinal associations between adolescent alcohol use and adulthood sexual behavior and sexually transmitted infections in the United States: Assessment of differences by race. American Journal of Public Health, 102(5), 867-875.
Mason, W.A., & Spoth, R.L. (2011). Longitudinal associations of alcohol involvement with subjective well-being in adolescence and prediction to alcohol problems in early adulthood. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 40(9), 1215-1224.
McCambridge, J., McAlaney, J., & Rowe, R. (2011). Adult consequences of late adolescent alcohol consumption: A systematic review of cohort studies. PLoS Medicine, 8(2), 1-13.