Romantic relationships and alcohol use: A long-term, developmental perspective.
Abstract: This paper offers a developmental perspective on college drinking by focusing on broad developmental themes during adolescence and the transition to young adulthood. Heavy drinking increases during the transition to college, with significant interindividual variation in the course and consequences. The majority of young people make it through these years with, on balance, more positive than negative experiences with alcohol, but some experience tragic consequences and others develop chronic problems of abuse and dependence. The transition to college is a critical developmental transition, with major individual and contextual change in every domain of life leading to the potential for discontinuity and change in functioning and adjustment. A developmental perspective encourages the examination of alcohol use and heavy drinking in relation to normative developmental tasks and transitions and in the context of students’ changing lives, focusing on a wide range of proximal and distal influences. Links between developmental transitions and health risks are discussed in light of five alternative models: Overload, Developmental Mismatch, Increased Heterogeneity, Transition Catalyst, and Heightened Vulnerability to Chance Events models. We review normative developmental transitions of adolescence and young adulthood, focusing specifically on fundamental biological and cognitive changes; transitions of identity; changes in affiliations with the family of origin, peers, and romantic partners; and achievement transitions related to school and work. These transitions offer important vantage points for examining increasing (and decreasing) substance use and other health risks during adolescence and young adulthood. Final sections review research and policy implications, including broad implications for developmental interventions and more specific recommendations for alcohol-specific programming.