Newswise — Young adulthood is a period of multiple transitions, with individuals navigating changes in education and employment status, living situation, and relationships. Such role transitions are often positive for the individual. However, a study has shown that when young adults perceive transitions to have a negative impact on their lives, they experience more stress and are at increased risk for alcohol-related consequences. The research, published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, is based on data from 767 young adult drinkers, aged 18-23 years at time of recruitment, in the Pacific Northwest region.

For two years, participants completed monthly online surveys to report on their experiences over the previous month – with questions covering their alcohol use and related consequences (example: “I have passed out from drinking”), feelings of perceived stress, role transitions since the previous month, and their perception of these transitions as positive or negative. The researchers used statistical modeling to evaluate associations between seven major role transitions – starting or ending roles in education, work, or romantic relationships, or moving away from (or back in with) parents – and perceived stress, heavy drinking, and negative alcohol consequences.

At least one role transition was reported in 42% of the monthly datasets analyzed. Young adults who had more transitions across two years reported more frequent heavy drinking and more alcohol-related consequences than peers with fewer transitions. On months when a young adult had more transitions than their average, they also tended to report more frequent heavy drinking and alcohol consequences.

However, having more role transitions was not itself associated with increased stress. Rather, stress was linked to the number of transitions that an individual rated as having a negative impact on their life – a factor that was also predictive of negative alcohol consequences. This suggests that stress may lead young adults to drink to cope with negative emotions related to difficult role transitions, and is consistent with previous research showing that drinking to cope is associated with negative alcohol outcomes.

Identifying and supporting young adults who are negatively affected by role transitions is an important area for further research. The researchers note that there is a need to develop prevention strategies focused on improving well-being, coping skills, and stress management – and on reducing alcohol misuse – for these young adults who are at risk for negative outcomes.

Negative evaluation of role transitions associated with perceived stress and alcohol consequences: Examination of the transitions overload model in young adulthood using two years of monthly data

M. Cadigan, C. B. Fleming, M. E. Patrick, M. A. Lewis, I. C. Rhew, D. A. Abdallah, A. M. Fairlie, J. E. Schulenberg, M. E. Larimer, C. M. Lee (pages xxx).