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Alcohol Expectancies: How Age Impacts Consumption

Posted in Research

Heavy alcohol consumption is usually associated with young adults. It’s easy to picture rowdy college kids on spring break or young bachelors kicking back to watch the big game with beers in hand. Scientists are starting to examine some of the specific associations of alcohol consumption and age.

Alcohol can affect several areas of the brain’s functioning. When it comes to things like tension reduction and aggression, are older adults just more aware of the effects, or are they affected differently by alcohol consumption and are therefore impacted in their decisions about alcohol?

A recent study by Pabst, Baumeister and Kraus (2010) sought to understand these relationships and how they are impacted by age. The purpose of their study was to examine the cross-sectional relationship between alcohol-expectancy dimensions and alcohol consumption. They also wanted to examine whether the relationship was modified by age.

Data was collected from the 2003 German Epidemiological Survey on Substance Abuse. There were 6,099 participants that were all aged between 18 and 59 years. The Comprehensive Alcohol Expectancy Questionnaire was employed to assess alcohol expectancies.

There were five dimensions examined by the questionnaire: social assertiveness, tension reduction, sexual enhancement, cognitive impairment, and aggression. Alcohol consumption was measured by the number of drinking days of the participants and the beverage-specific quantity-frequency measure.

The results of the study indicate that all of the expectancy dimensions except sexual enhancement were related to alcohol consumption. The study also showed that there were age differences between three of the expectancy dimensions and alcohol consumption.

The connection between social assertiveness and sexual enhancement with drinking frequency, as well as with the average daily intake of alcohol, was stronger for younger adults. Respondents aged 30 years and older showed a lower connection between these expectancies.

In addition, older adults with high expectations of cognitive impairment connected with alcohol consumption reported that they drank lower amounts of alcohol compared with their younger counterparts who reported the same level of expectation.

Additional research may be needed to examine the dimensions more fully with multidimensional alcohol-expectancy instruments. This would provide more information than the measurement of only positive and negative alcohol expectancies reported here.

The findings of this study provide important information for those coordinating programs for prevention and education of alcohol abuse. This study indicates that age modifies the relationship between alcohol-expectancy dimensions and drinking.

While it is generally acknowledged that younger adults are more likely to participate in alcohol consumption and experience altered behaviors, research like this study is making it easier to understand how age plays a part in alcohol consumption and why.