Loneliness in childhood predicted alcohol problems in adulthood

(ORDO NEWS) — American psychologists have concluded that people who experienced loneliness in childhood (before the age of 12) usually react more strongly to stress, which makes them more vulnerable to alcohol-related problems between the ages of 18 and 29. The results of the study are published in Addictive Behaviors Reports.

A third of people in industrialized countries experience loneliness. At the same time, this feeling is subjective, it does not depend on social isolation, even with active social interaction, people can feel lonely.

According to the Evolutionary Model of Loneliness, the rejection of social isolation acts through social pain and reward to stimulate social reconnection.

When a person’s need for belonging is not satisfied, it leads to cognitive, behavioral, and neurophysiological distress. In addition, loneliness was associated with a more pronounced subjective feeling of stress.

Interestingly, children already at the age of five feel and understand loneliness as a concept different from social isolation. However, perceived social isolation in childhood affects later in life and may be associated with social skills deficits, sleep disturbances, depression and substance use in adulthood.

People use a variety of methods to cope with stress, including alcohol. There is even a stress dampening model that uses alcohol to reduce negative emotions.

It was found that coping motives for alcohol consumption are associated with an increase in impaired control.

Impaired alcohol control is the inability of a person to independently control the use of a psychoactive substance in terms of onset, amount, and end.

Psychologists at Arizona State University, led by Julie Patock-Peckham, looked at how childhood loneliness before the age of 12 is associated with perceived stress and alcohol abuse in emerging adults aged 18 to 29. The study involved 310 students (154 women and 156 men) over 18 years of age.

Using an online questionnaire, they assessed their childhood loneliness, perceived stress, impaired control, frequency of drinking, and drinking problems. 85 percent of participants said they drink alcohol, and 12.3 percent reported drinking as a minor.

The psychologists analyzed the data using structural equation modeling and the bootstrap method (k = 20,000). The researchers also included gender as a covariance.

Loneliness in childhood predicted alcohol problems in adulthood
Path chart for 310 participants with a standard score (z-score) and standardized coefficients; *p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001

High childhood loneliness was indirectly associated with higher impaired control due to greater stress [indirect effect = 0.100, SE = 0.026, Z = 3.816, p < 0.001, 95 percent confidence interval (0.052, 0.155)].

Also, high levels of loneliness before age 12 were indirectly associated with more frequent alcohol use due to increased stress and, in turn, with higher impaired control [indirect effect = 0.024, SE = 0.009, Z = 2.836, p = 0.005, 95 -percentage confidence interval (0.010, 0.043)].

An indirect association was also found between childhood loneliness and alcohol problems in adulthood [indirect effect = 0.042, SE = 0.013, Z = 3.150, p = 0.002, 95% confidence interval (0.020, 0.072)].

In all three categories, being female was indirectly associated with higher levels of stress, impaired control, alcohol use, and related problems.

Thus, higher childhood loneliness directly predicted drinking-related problems in adulthood and indirectly predicted a greater likelihood of unregulated drinking due to stress, especially among women.


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