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Maturing Out of Problematic Alcohol Use

After peaking when young people are about 22 years old, heavy drinking rates among both college students and their nonstudent age-mates decline steadily, probably in response to the new roles and responsibilities that come with adulthood. Dr. Patrick M. O'Malley describes key transitions to adulthood and how they are associated either with increased drinking or with “maturing out” of alcohol use. The first major change, moving out of the parental home, often coincides with increasing rates of heavy drinking among many young people, whether they attend college or not. College students then may be exposed to campus social environments that sometimes encourage excessive drinking. As adult responsibilities–such as employment, marriage, and parenthood–mount, problematic drinking declines, partly because of the limitations these responsibilities place on social activities in general and because of changes in young adults' attitudes toward drinking. Young alcohol users who would be diagnosed as alcohol dependent may be less affected by the more stabilizing, socializing effects of marriage and parenthood because of personality characteristics that make them less attracted to these choices, or because their drinking behavior is less susceptible to such influences. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.