Childhood loneliness predicts increased alcohol use later in life

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Higher levels of loneliness reported in children prior to the age of 12 years predicted alcohol-related issues emerging in adulthood, researchers reported in Addictive Behaviors Reports.

Julie Patock-Peckham, PhD, An assistant research professor at Arizona State University, and colleagues assessed the direct and indirect relationships between childhood loneliness, stress, and impairment control over alcohol use and alcohol-related issues to determine childhood loneliness can influence patterns of alcohol use.

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A total of 310 university students (156 male; 154 female) were included in the study population. All participants took part in a 20-question survey and were scored on the UCLA loneliness scale. Questions were prefaced with “before the age of 12,” to measure childhood loneliness.

Participants were also assessed for stress, impairment control and alcohol use. They were then given the young adult alcohol problems screening test, a 27-item scale designed to measure the frequency of problematic alcohol use in college students.

“In young adults, childhood loneliness before age 12 was associated with perceived stress right now and affected dysregulated drinking,” Patock-Peckham said in a press release accompanying the study.

Higher levels of loneliness as a child were indirectly linked to more alcohol use through increased stress and more impaired control (indirect affect, 0.024; 95% CI, 0.01-0.043). Additionally, being male was indirectly linked to less alcohol use through less stress and less impaired control (indirect effect, -0.012; 95% CI, -0.026 to -0.002).

“The data used in this study were collected before the pandemic, and the findings suggest that we could have another public health crisis on our hands in a few years as today’s children grow up,” Patock-Peckham said. “We need more research into whether mitigating childhood loneliness could be a way to disrupt the pathways that lead to alcohol use disorders in adults. Combating childhood loneliness should help to reduce impairment control over drinking, especially among women.”


Childhood loneliness linked to stress and problem drinking in young adults. Published: July 18, 2022; Accessed: July 18, 2022.

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