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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2018 Jan;42(1):135-143. doi: 10.1111/acer.13541. Epub 2017 Nov 28.

Changing Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Heavy Drinking Trajectories Through Young Adulthood: A Comparative Cohort Study.

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Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute, Emeryville, California.



There is evidence of racial/ethnic differences in the age at which young adults age out of heavy drinking. Some studies have found Black and Hispanic drinkers engage in more frequent heavy drinking than White people beyond adulthood. Yet, the alcohol-related disparities literature has produced contradictory findings on whether an age-crossover effect is evident among racial/ethnic groups; that is, whether racial/ethnic minorities' drinking levels or trajectories are lower than White people at young ages but later exceed (or crossover) those of White people. This study extends this scant literature by assessing whether racial/ethnic differences in heavy drinking have changed over time (possibly accounting for mixed findings from prior research); and tests for an age-crossover effect in heavy drinking using longitudinal data from 2 cohorts born 20 years apart.


Data are from the 1979 (n = 10,963) and 1997 (n = 8,852) cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). Generalized estimating equations were used to model trajectories of heavy drinking frequency from ages 17 to 31. Racial/ethnic differences were determined using sex-stratified models and 3-way interactions of race/ethnicity with age, age-squared, and cohort.


Racial/ethnic differences in heavy drinking trajectories have changed over time in men and women. In the older NLSY cohort, Hispanic men and Black women surpassed White men's and women's heavy drinking frequency by age 31. This crossover was absent in the younger cohort, where trajectories of all racial-sex groups converged by age 31. Normative trajectories have changed in Hispanics and White people of both sexes, with a delay in age of peak frequency, and greater levels of heavy drinking in the younger cohort of women.


Changes in heavy drinking trajectories over time suggest the need for targeted interventions during young adulthood. While disparities in young adult heavy drinking were no longer apparent in the more recent birth cohort, continued monitoring is important.


Gender Differences; Heavy Drinking; Racial/Ethnic Disparities; Young Adult

[Available on 2019-01-01]

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