Study Shows Violating Drinking Intentions Predicts Future Alcohol Problems in Young Adults

November 23, 2022

Excessive drinking is bad for your health and was recently identified as one of the leading causes of death among Americans ages 20-49.

Research from Arizona State University has shown that drinking more than planned is a stronger predictor of future drinking problems than actual drinking or impulsive personality traits in young adults. The study was published in Addictive Behaviors.
An empty bar with three green stools in front and shelves full of liquor behind.
Research from the ASU Department of Psychology has shown that drinking more than planned is a stronger predictor of future drinking problems than actual drinking or impulsive personality traits. Photo by Rachel Claire/Pexels
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“Intending to only have a few drinks or going out for a certain amount of time and violating those intentions predicted alcohol-related long-term problems and consequences more than alcohol use itself,” said Julie A. Patock-Peckham, an assistant research. professor in the ASU Department of Psychology.

Setting an intention to drink a limited amount or to drink only for a specific period of time and then violating that goal is called poor control over drinking by researchers studying addiction.

The study included 448 young adults ages 21 to 25 who, after initial testing, were followed up 6 and 12 months later. Because poor control over drinking could be related to how impulsive people are, the researchers measured overall impulsivity in addition to the amount of alcohol the participants consumed at any one time.

The six-month and 12-month follow-up sessions allowed the researchers to assess whether impulsive personality traits or drinking more than expected were associated with future drinking problems.

Impulsiveness traits predicted drinking behaviors, but the strongest predictor of future drinking problems was poor control: attempting to drink a certain amount and then exceeding that intention.

“It could be that poor control over drinking is a sign that someone already has a problem, but the prospective nature of this study allowed us to show that poor control longitudinally predicted problem drinking and was distinct from trait impulsivity.” said William Corbin, a professor of psychology at ASU. “Impaired control over drinking is not a byproduct of impulsivity. It is a marker that drinking problems could escalate in the future and is an important early intervention target.”

This work was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Burton Family Foundation.

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