Early Drinking Behavior May Be Risk for Alcohol Use Disorder

Addictions and substance use disorders often blend biology and behavior. With a lack of biomarkers to firmly establish risk, understanding behavioral risk factors becomes more important – especially if prevention is a goal.

To that end, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and University of Michigan, recently published the results of a 17-year longitudinal study tracking drinking behavior in around 4500 individuals starting from age 181. The most profound findings were that solitary drinking behavior at ages 18, 23 and 24, was predictive of a diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder at age 35, and that this association especially held significance in women. (An additional gender-based finding was recently reported in another study as well)

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD, previously referred to as alcoholism), is a devastating condition that negatively impacts individuals, families, businesses, and communities. According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse2, nearly 15 million people in the United States ages 12 and older are affected by AUD. Only around 7% of them are currently accessing treatment, which is largely not covered by insurance, and much is which has low efficacy. Globally, AUD is a concern that has considerable impact, and has been flagged by the World Health Organization as a top risk factor for premature death and disability in individuals from age 15 to 503.

Established risk factors for AUD include very early onset drinking (early teens) and mental health diagnosis (especially depression, ADHD, and trauma). Genetics also play a role with a high lifetime hereditability of around 60% - though this is likely related to genes that impact tolerance and ability to detoxify alcohol rather than an inheritable behavior. With access to care and efficacy of care being so challenging in AUD, having the ability to identify high-risk populations could lead to better early strategies for prevention and intervention. These tools, plus promising new research on emerging therapies such as ketamine4 and psilocybin5 may lead to much better outcomes in the treatment of AUD.



  1. Drinking alone foreshadows future alcohol problems, study finds. ScienceDaily. Accessed July 13, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/07/220711095149.htm
  2. Alcohol Facts and Statistics | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Accessed July 13, 2022. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  3. Griswold MG, Fullman N, Hawley C, et al. Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet. 2018;392(10152):1015-1035. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31310-2
  4. Worrell SD, Gould TJ. Therapeutic potential of ketamine for alcohol use disorder. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2021;126:573-589. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2021.05.006
  5. Psilocybin may effectively treat addiction. Drug Discovery News. Accessed July 13, 2022. https://www.drugdiscoverynews.com/psilocybin-may-effectively-treat-addiction-15278