Targeting Adolescent Alcohol Dependence May Prevent Depression in Young Adults

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Data corresponding with DSM-IV symptoms were gathered around ages 18, 21, and 23 years and the primary outcome was depression at age 24.

New research revealed a link between alcohol dependence during adolescence and the risk of depression in young adulthood. Based on the analysis, the severity of alcohol dependence at age 18 was more relevant in predicting depression than the rate at which alcohol dependence changed over time.1

Approximately 90,000 people each year in the US experience alcohol abuse.2 This study aimed to expand the understanding surrounding the relationship between alcohol use and the development of depression, which remains a subject in need of further investigation.1

Gemma Hammerton, PhD, Population Health Sciences, Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol, and investigators conducted a prospective cohort study to investigate whether alcohol dependence during adolescence heightened the risk of depression in young adulthood. The team focused on adolescents born to women recruited to the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in Avon, UK.

The study involved 3902 adolescents with 58% of the population being female and 42% being male. The majority of participants (96.7%) were of white ethnicity. Data on alcohol dependence and consumption were collected at various ages, specifically around 16, 18, 19, 21, and 23 years, using the self-reported Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.

Additionally, data corresponding to DSM-IV symptoms were gathered around ages 18, 21, and 23 years. The primary outcome was depression at age 24, assessed with the Clinical Interview Schedule Revised.

The findings exhibited associations between alcohol dependence, depression, and alcohol consumption. When assessing the relationship between alcohol dependence at 18 years of age and depression at 24 years, investigators observed a positive link (0.13 (95% CI, 0.02 to 0.25, P = 0.019) suggesting alcohol dependence during adolescence could potentially increase the risk of depression in young adulthood.

However, when examining the rate of change in alcohol dependence and its association with depression, the team found no significant association (0.10 [95% CI, -0.82 to 1.01, P = 0.84).

“Our findings therefore suggest that high frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption might not increase the risk of depression during young adulthood unless there are also features of dependency involved,” investigators wrote. “We found no evidence that a faster increase in levels of dependence across adolescence was associated with depression at age 24 years, and only small variability in rate of change over time.”

Regarding alcohol consumption, the latent intercept probit coefficient was -0.01 (95% CI, -0.06 to 0.03, P = 0.60), and the linear slope coefficient was 0.01 (95% CI, -0.40 to 0.42, P = 0.96) indiciating no meaningful association between the frequency or quantity of alcohol consumption during adolescence and the risk of depression in young adulthood.

“This finding suggests that the magnitude of the association between dependence and depression is fairly constant over adolescence and that the timepoint for considering levels of alcohol dependence (between ages 16 and 23 years) might not be particularly important,” the team continued. “Few studies have tested the hypothesis that alcohol dependence, but not consumption, during adolescence increases the risk of depression during young adulthood.”


  1. Hammerton G, Lewis G, Heron J, Fernandes G, Hickman M, Lewis G. The association of alcohol dependence and consumption during adolescence with depression in young adulthood, in England: a prospective cohort study [published correction appears in Lancet Psychiatry. 2023 Jun 9;:]. Lancet Psychiatry. 2023;10(7):490-498. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(23)00138-4
  2. Walter K. Explaining the Pathways of Alcohol Abuse. HCPLive. April 26, 2020.