What factors are associated with alcohol misuse in early midlife?

VCU researchers have been awarded a $3 million grant to study the risk factors and consequences of drinking in one’s 30s and 40s.

A person pouring liquid into a glass.
Understanding more about alcohol misuse in one’s 30s and 40s is particularly important, as many health-related consequences of drinking, such as weight gain and obesity, begin to emerge during that period. (Getty Images)

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have received a five-year $3 million grant to launch a study exploring the predictors and consequences of drinking from adolescence to early midlife, or one’s 30s and 40s.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded the grant to fund the study, “The Development of Alcohol Misuse and Related Problems from Adolescence to Early Midlife,” co-led by Danielle Dick, Ph.D., Commonwealth Professor of Psychology and Human and Molecular Genetics, and Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

“There are many longitudinal studies of alcohol use and misuse — but surprisingly, most of them stop following participants in their early 20s,” Salvatore said. “Yet, we know from other cross-sectional epidemiological studies that alcohol misuse during early midlife is quite common.”

Understanding more about alcohol misuse during early midlife is particularly important, Salvatore said, as many health-related consequences of drinking, such as weight gain and obesity, begin to emerge during that period.

“What we are positioned to do in this project is look at how risk and protective factors come together across the lifespan to predict alcohol outcomes, and to examine how patterns of alcohol use across the lifespan map onto physical health and overall well-being,” she said.

The project will involve following 10,741 Finnish twins in two national registries, allowing the researchers to compare exposures and outcomes within families and individuals.   

The researchers’ aim will be to characterize patterns of alcohol misuse from adolescence to early midlife, identify factors associated with trajectories of alcohol misuse between adolescence and early midlife, and examine the health outcomes associated with trajectories of alcohol misuse, including measures of physical health, sleep and life satisfaction.

The goal is to gain a better understanding of the factors associated with alcohol misuse across the lifespan.

“Alcohol misuse has massive public health costs, in addition to the personal costs experienced by affected individuals and their loved ones,” Salvatore said. “Identifying the factors associated with alcohol misuse can inform the development of preventive interventions that can target individuals at elevated risk before they develop a problem.”

The project will take place at VCU, the University of Helsinki and Indiana University.

At VCU, it will involve Hermine Maes, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics and the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics; research assistant professor Fazil Aliev, Ph.D.; and research associate Peter Barr, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology. At the University of Helsinki, it will involve Jaakko Kaprio, Ph.D., as well as Antti Latvala, Ph.D., Eero Vuoksimaa, Ph.D., Miina Ollikainen, Ph.D., and Kirsi Pietiläinen, Ph.D. And at Indiana University, it will involve Richard Rose, Ph.D., and Richard Viken, Ph.D.

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