Reducing the Risk of Alcohol Use During Adolescents Drops Risk of Depression in Adulthood

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After making adjustments, the results show a positive association between alcohol dependence at 18 years and depression at age 24 years. However, there was no association between the rate of change and depression.

Addressing alcohol consumption in late teen years could help reduce the risk of developing depression in young adulthood.1

A team, led by Gemma Hammerton, PhD, Population Health Sciences, Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol, investigated whether alcohol dependence, but not high frequency or quantity of consumption, during adolescence increased the risk of depression in young adulthood.

Alcohol and Depression

There is not much research showing what role alcohol use may play in the development of depression.

“Alcohol consumption has fallen among adolescents in most high-income countries in the past 20 years, but this has not led to a reduction in alcohol-related harms among young adults,” the authors wrote. “Alcohol use and depression are frequently comorbid, but less is known about the direction of association. According to self-medication theory, people with depression often use alcohol to cope with negative emotions.”

While there is some evidence showing depressive symptoms are linked to subsequent increases in alcohol use during adolescence, adolescent alcohol use might also precede depressive symptoms.

The Study

In the prospective cohort study, the investigators examined adolescent patients who were born to women recruited to the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in Avon, UK, with delivery dates between April 1, 1991, and Dec 31, 1992.

The team measured alcohol dependence and consumption at about age 16 years, 18 years, 19 years, 21 years, and 23 years using the self-reported Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. They also measured alcohol dependence at about age 18 years, 21 years, and 23 years using items corresponding to DSM-IV symptoms.

The investigators sought primary outcomes of depression at age 24 years assessed using the Clinical Interview Schedule Revised.

Analyses were probit regressions between growth factors for alcohol dependence and consumption and depression, before and after adjustments for confounders, such as sex, housing tenure, maternal education, maternal depressive symptoms, parents' alcohol use, conduct problems at age 4 years, being bullied from age 12–16 years, and frequency of smoking cigarettes or cannabis.

Adolescents that had data from at least 1 timepoint for alcohol use and confounders were included in the analyses.

The final analyses included 3902 adolescents.

After making adjustments, the results show a positive association between alcohol dependence at 18 years (latent intercept) and depression at age 24 years (probit coefficient, 0.13; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.02-0.25; P = 0.019). However, there was no association between the rate of change (linear slope) and depression (probit coefficient, 0.10; 95% CI, -0.82 to 1.01; P = 0.84).

There was also no evidence showing an association between alcohol consumption and depression (latent intercept probit coefficient, -0.01; 95% CI, -0.06 to 0.03; P = 0.60; linear slope, 0.01; 95% CI, -0.40 to 0.42; P = 0.96) after adjustments.

“Psychosocial or behavioral interventions that reduce the risk of alcohol dependence during adolescence could contribute to preventing depression in young adulthood,” the authors wrote.


Hammerton, G., Lewis, G., Heron, J., Fernandes, G., Hickman, M., & Lewis, G. (2023). The association of alcohol dependence and consumption during adolescence with depression in young adulthood, in England: A prospective cohort study. The Lancet Psychiatry.