Science

Young adults in serious relationships drink ‘significantly less’ than their more promiscuous peers

Socialising and casual dating increases the consumption of alcohol among young people, according to a new study. 

Researchers in the state of Washington surveyed more than 700 young adults on their relationship status, dating habits and alcohol use over two years. 

They found that when they were more interested in socialising and casually dating, they tended to drink more booze.

But when they were in serious relationships, not interested in dating or placed less importance on friendship, their alcohol use was significantly lower.    

When we’re dating, alcohol facilitates romantic and sexual relationships, the experts say – and likely eases those awkward first encounters across the dinner table. 

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When young adults are more interested in socialising and casually dating, they tend to drink more alcohol, according to a new study from Washington State University (stock image)

Time to ditch the wine? Drinking ANY amount of alcohol is harmful to the brain, study warns 

Researchers from the University of Oxford have linked ‘moderate’ drinking to lower volume of grey matter. 

Grey matter, found in the outermost layer of the brain, is high in neural cell bodies and plays a major part in the central nervous system. 

The researchers report ‘no safe dose of alcohol for the brain’, and say that moderate consumption is linked with ‘more widespread adverse effects on the brain than previously recognised’. 

Moderate alcohol consumption is ‘often viewed as harmless to brain health’, the Oxford team now point out, but this school of thought may be misguided.

Read more: Drinking any amount of alcohol is harmful to the brain, study warns 

The study has been led by Jennifer Duckworth, an assistant professor at Washington State University’s Department of Human Development.

‘Young adults shift so much in terms of social relationships that having this monthly data really allowed us to home in on nuances and see these changes in alcohol use depending on social situations,’ she said. 

‘The idea is to understand whether young adults may be viewing alcohol as a way to facilitate relationships. 

‘They may think of alcohol as a way to make hanging out easier or more fun.’

But the study’s findings are potentially worrying, as they suggest young people who are frequently going on dates are hitting the bottle. 

And according to 2018 research, having as little as four drinks on a night out puts young adults at risk of heart disease. 

According to Professor Duckworth, the results are important because young adults are at a higher risk of alcohol use than any other age group.  

‘Understanding what’s going on in their lives across time is very useful if we want to mitigate high-risk use of alcohol,’ she said. 

‘We can focus on interventions that help educate young adults on what is motivating their behaviours. 

‘We’re bridging alcohol use with development research in a meaningful way that can really help people.’  

For the study, Professor Duckworth and her team recruited 752 young adults living in the Seattle area and aged between 18 and 23. 

Just over half of the sample – 56 per cent – were female. The study used a community sample that was not limited to college students.

For 24 consecutive months, surveys assessed their alcohol use for the past month, as well as their social drinking motives, friendship importance and dating/relationship status.      

Being able to look at young adult behaviour over a longer period allowed the research team to see how alcohol use was related to socialising and relationships.

When young adults are in serious relationships, their alcohol use is significantly lower (stock image)

When young adults are in serious relationships, their alcohol use is significantly lower (stock image)

Since the survey tracked people every month, they could study changes as participants moved in and out of different relationship statuses. 

Also, if the assessment period was restricted to three months over the summer, for example, the results could have been skewed by a greater tendency to drink when the weather’s good or students are on holiday.   

Importantly, when the participants were single, they were separated into two groups – whether they were casually dating or not interesting in dating.

Previous research has shown that young adults in relationships tend to drink less than single people, but those studies didn’t separate the term ‘single’ into two separate groups based on whether or not the young adults were interested in dating.

The results revealed that this distinction showed a significant difference in alcohol use – casual daters drank more booze than non-daters. 

But the study also found that ‘greater average friendship importance was associated with greater drinking’. In other words, simply being more willing to go and see friends leads to more booze intake, the study suggests.  

While the results are not surprising, the study, published today in the journal Substance Use & Misuse, can help young people address their own drinking habits. 

DRINKING ALCOHOL BRINGS STRANGERS PHYSICALLY CLOSER: 2021 STUDY  

Strangers who consume alcohol together may keep their distance initially, but draw physically closer as they become intoxicated, a study reveals. 

The authors, from University of Illinois, compared the effects of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks on distancing between friends and strangers. 

In a lab setting, alcohol caused the strangers to draw significantly closer to each other during social exchange, reducing physical proximity at a rate with ‘potentially important implications for public health’.  

No previous studies have tested the effects of alcohol consumption on social distancing, according to the researchers – in fact, they say there’s been a complete lack of evidence regarding alcohol’s effects.  

Alcohol’s ability to break down social conventions between strangers is well-known – often leading to friendly (and unfriendly) physical contact.  

‘Of the restrictions enacted during Covid-19, among the more controversial surround alcohol,’ the scientists say in their paper.  

‘Health officials warn that alcohol consumption may lead to decreased adherence to physical distancing guidelines. 

‘Alcohol might act to overcome a natural caution people feel towards strangers and thus promote virus transmission between previously unconnected social groups.’  

Read more: Intoxication brings strangers physically closer, study finds  


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